By Kim Tong-hyung
For a nation that prides itself as a high-tech utopia, the land of fancy third-generation (3G) phones, wireless broadband and citizen-driven media, it's amazing how South Korea continues to invent new ways to be held hostage by a single corporation ― Microsoft.
t's now old news that Korean users of Chrome, Firefox, Opera and other non-Internet explorer browsers can't bank or purchase products online and are even disabled from interacting with e-government sites, since all encrypted transactions on the Web must be done through Microsoft's ``Active-X'' controls.
The government has been facing growing pressure to break the virtual monopoly, but if its new policy for online verification systems is any indication, the intention for change seems almost non-existent.
The Korea Communications Commission (KCC), the country's broadcasting and telecommunications regulator, will enforce new rules in December that will allow users to subscribe to Internet sites without submitting their resident registration numbers, the Korean equivalent of social security numbers.
sers can instead choose to type in their ``I-Pin'' (Internet personal identification number), a new personal identification code for online use.
The alternative verification codes are provided from five different organizations _ the Seoul Credit Rating and Information Service, Sign Gate, the Korea Information Service, National Information and Credit Evaluation Service and the Ministry of Public Administration and Safety.
The new regulations, which will be implemented to Internet sites with more than 50,000 members, will also allow users to verify their identities through mobile-phone subscriptions, credit card subscriptions or public key certificates.
The government is aggressively promoting I-Pin in the fallout from the slew of privacy infringement cases in recent years, which many blame on an excessive amount of personal information gathered by Internet sites.
Although I-Pin may prove to be a safer option than resident registration numbers ― 13-digit codes that reveal sex, birth date and registration site ― the new verification system is only expected to strengthen Microsoft's presence here.
To receive I-Pin, users are required to download a keyboard security module that prevents the codes from being intercepted. However, the program can only be installed through Active-X controls, forcing users of non-Microsoft browsers to convert to Internet Explorer.
Public key certificates, which are required in the process of producing I-Pin numbers, are also reliant on Active-X controls.
Critics claim that the government has once again compromised consumer rights for corporate convenience.
``We admit that I-Pin represents a problem in terms of Web compatibility,'' said an official from the Korea Information Security Agency (KISA).
``There is nothing we can legally do about it for now, but we will try to improve in terms of consumer convenience and providing a fair environment for competition between companies,'' he said.
Continued Korean reliance on Active-X, a program used to install software components on Web pages to enable particular functions, is curious since Microsoft is moving to phase out the tool over compatibility issues and security concerns.
As a result, Korean Internet users shred fingernails whenever Microsoft introduces a new product.
The release of Windows Vista, Microsoft' s latest computer operating system, caused a massive disruption last year when Active-X programs used by online shopping malls and Internet banking sites didn't function properly. It took Microsoft and other companies nearly two months to solve the problem
There are also concerns surrounding Microsoft's plans to reduce its support for Active-X in IE8, the latest version of Internet Explorer.