Immovable North Korean Authoritarianism Meets Irresistible Moore's Law: Which Wins?

from the I-know-who-I'm-backing dept

North Korea has become a by-word for oppressive tyranny and technological backwardness. But Reuters reports on an interesting development that may begin to chip away at both:

A $50 portable media player is providing many North Koreans a window to the outside world despite the government's efforts to keep its people isolated -- a symbol of change in one of the world's most repressed societies.

By some estimates, up to half of all urban North Korean households have an easily concealed "notel", a small portable media player used to watch DVDs or content stored on USB sticks that can be easily smuggled into the country and passed hand to hand.

People are exchanging South Korean soaps, pop music, Hollywood films and news programs, all of which are expressly prohibited by the Pyongyang regime, according to North Korean defectors, activists and recent visitors to the isolated country.
The Reuters story reports that the device has become so popular that the North Korean government felt obliged to legalize the "notel" -- but with the requirement that they had to be registered. These versions must be fixed to official state television and radio channels, but the smuggled models are more versatile:
The low-voltage notel differs from the portable DVD players of the late 1990s in that they have USB and SD card ports, and a built-in TV and radio tuner. They can also be charged with a car battery -- an essential piece of household equipment in electricity-scarce North Korea.
The dual media capability means a North Korean DVD can be inserted while watching smuggled, forbidden content from South Korea on a USB stick, which can be quickly removed if the authorities turn up to conduct a check on a household.

A key factor driving the uptake of these new devices is Moore's Law. This has pushed down the price of the components used in the notel box to the point where even North Koreans, with their rising, but still very limited disposable incomes, can afford them. It has increased the capacities of USBs and SD cards such that several film-length videos can be stored on devices that are very easy to hide at short notice. That means it only requires one copy of a South Korean film -- or other, even more subversive material -- to enter North Korea, and it can be copied and passed around on a scale that makes stopping it almost impossible for the authorities. It will be fascinating to watch the social and political ramifications of this silent struggle between tyranny and technology.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2015 @ 2:21am

    If they could also run firechat, we could get something brewing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    dpaus (profile), 3 Apr 2015 @ 3:37am

    This reminds me of the Arthur C. Clarke story about beaming propaganda-laced soft porn from satellites....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2015 @ 4:34am

    That would be great on NK. If the authorities come around you just say you love the country and the glorious(or whatever it is this week) leader so much you walk around with a permanent hard-on!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Wes, 3 Apr 2015 @ 5:50am

    So even in an authoritarian dictatorship like North Korea piracy still exists?

    I'm sure the RIAA & MPAA would just argue that Pyongyang isn't tough enough on pirates.

    Perhaps if North Korea had more internet restrictions and stricter punishments for pirates we could stop this epidemic.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2015 @ 10:19am

      Re:

      -So even in an authoritarian dictatorship like North Korea piracy still exists?

      lol! That's exactly what I was thinking. N. Korea is full of pirates!

      Using N. Korean as a test bed for piracy proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that piracy is the result of multimedia content being either hard to find or priced too high for the local population.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2015 @ 1:26pm

        Re: Re:

        It also illustrates that the Internet is not needed for piracy, and that harsh punishment does not stop it. Will the MPAA and RIAA take note of these facts, will they hell.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Baron von Robber, 3 Apr 2015 @ 8:00am

    I wish I could take credit for this but it was UserIDAlreadyInUse at Ars Technica that posted it...



    And then, hands shaking from mingled fear and excitement, they turn off the lights, draw closed the blackout curtains. All present are sworn to secrecy with regards to the crime they are about to commit, the crime of watching foreign black market media.

    Fearful glances are shot at the door...are the DPRK soldiers outside? Are they on their way? Do they know?? Quick, place the DVD into the media player. Do it! Now! Before we change our minds!

    The Western DVD is placed in the player - Soon Yi will destroy it once the movie is done, all evidence hidden - and the play button pressed.

    Eyes wide, they are greeted with this message from the West:

    "Sorry, but this DVD is not licensed for playback in your region."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2015 @ 8:19am

      Re:

      Ah, right - but this is a message that is thrown up by the player, not the disc... which surely ignores the region in this case.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2015 @ 9:40am

    Moore's law is computing power

    not necessarily price so it's not the same

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Just Another Anonymous Troll, 6 Apr 2015 @ 6:28am

      Re: Moore's law is computing power

      As computing power increases, the price of computing power decreases. They are certainly related.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Apr 2015 @ 2:27pm

    the North Koreans would be better off throwing the players away. at least they know that their government and law makers are watching their every move and will lock them up for going against the rules which they again know are as restrictive as you could probably get anywhere on the planet.
    if they were to learn about and then try to imitate the USA, for example, they would be told they have the right to privacy and freedom and are protected by the Constitution. the problem being that all this is lies and the people are lulled into a false sense of security by being told the things above, when in actual fact, they are being treated the same as in N.Korea, but led to believe they are not! until, of course, it's too late and they have been screwed good and proper, just the same!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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