By Yoon Ja-young
The country’s top portals and game companies plan to stop requesting resident registration numbers to subscribe to their sites. They will also delete the registration number data of the users they have. The country took the first step toward this end in the wake of serious privacy infringements and phishing crimes here.
Nexon, the top online game company, announced Wednesday that it won’t store the users’ resident registration numbers. It follows the same decision by Naver and Daum, the country’s top portals. NCsoft, another giant online game company and Nate have already announced this course of action.
Unlike in other countries, large websites here have demanded people’s resident registration number to be able to sign up.
The request stemmed from the real name system on the Internet adopted by the government in July 2007. The easiest way for websites to confirm whether subscribers were using their real names was to request their resident number and see if it matched.
However, there has been increasing criticism that forcing real-name registration on the Web infringes on freedom of expression online. YouTube blocked users with Korean accounts from uploading videos or posting replies, as a backlash to the real name system for that reason.
It also fails to meet the global Internet standard. Social networking services such as Twitter and Facebook have become popular here, but local regulators don’t have the means to force them to collect users’ real names. It has also hindered local Internet services from attracting foreign users as they don’t have Korean residents’ numbers.
Personal information leaks
A more serious problem of requesting the resident registration number is the potential and actual private information leaks.
Nexon recently had the private data of 13 million users hacked. Nate and Cyworld, its sister social networking service, had 35 million users’ details compromised after being hacked. After a series of private information leaks at large businesses like Nate, Nexon, Auction, and Hyundai Capital, now virtually all the resident registration numbers of Koreans are available.
As they hold the key to entering Internet sites, criminals can collect almost anyone’s details by collecting information from two or three websites, acquiring names, phone numbers, email addresses, home addresses, office addresses, shopping records, bank account numbers and even blood types.
Some victims submitted a petition to the court last month, requesting they be allowed to change their registration number. "We are on the verge of suffering from more damage as we are forced to continuously use our leaked registration numbers with no countermeasures being taken so far," the complainants said in their suit.
The Korea Communications Commission is planning to enforce the removal of resident numbers from being held online. “I think it is the time and condition for us to give second thoughts to the Internet real name system so that businesses can’t collect too much personal information,” the regulator’s Chairman Choi See-joong said at a parliamentary audit in September.