Google CEO Eric Schmidt
By Kim Tong-hyung
Google gets to keep its ``Don't be evil'' mantra for now, but at the cost of crippling the Korean version of its online video service, YouTube (kr.youtube.com).
In a surprise decision Thursday, Google blocked South Korean users from uploading videos and posting comments on YouTube's Korean-language site in order to avoid government requirements for the real-name registration of users.
Korean Internet users now have to submit their resident registration codes, the Korean equivalent of social security numbers, and names, before posting files or commenting on Web sites with more than 100,000 daily visitors, including YouTube.
The new rules kicked in April 1, but Google had been refusing to enforce real-name verification for YouTube users, reluctant to bend its rules only for Korea.
Google asks users to submit only their IDs, passwords and e-mail addresses to access its online services. Forcing its Korean users to make real-name registrations would have been an enormous risk for Google, considering that the government could later demand user information from the company.
Had Google opted to comply with local regulations, it would have been the first time for a country to have a company force users to submit verifiable personal information.
In the end, Google rather chose to limit the ability of Korean users to post content rather than find out their identities.
``YouTube users will be allowed to watch videos and read comments as they always have, and will be able to embed (link) the videos to other sites,'' Google Korea said on YouTube's official Korean blog.
``The changes are only effective to YouTube's Korean site, so users could post videos and comments by choosing a version of a different country.''
Google's move is certainly seen as a slap in the face to Korean regulators, but an official from the Korea Communications Commission (KCC), the country's broadcasting and telecommunications watchdog, hinted that there would be no repercussions.
``We need to further discuss the issue, but if they block the uploading and message board functions of the site, they may no longer be subject to the real-name rule,'' said an official from KCC's network policy bureau.
Google obviously stood up to its principles, but it remains to be seen whether it may pay the price on the business end.
Google had struggled to leverage its global dominance in the Korean market, where domestic Web portals such as Naver (www.naver.com) and Daum (www.daum.net) are established atop the pecking order.
The company had become more serious about Korea recently, looking to customize its services for local users and build its own pool of user-generated content, and YouTube was seen as a big part of the plan.
An interesting decision came earlier this year when Google announced plans to merge its key Web services with Yahoo! Korea over the platforms of their digital maps, which included providing YouTube video clips on Yahoo's map.
However, the increasing regulatory risks doesn't exactly inspire confidence for such localization efforts.
Lois Kim, a Google Korea spokesperson, said that Google's commitment to the Korean market is not to be questioned. ``We are trying to find a way to abide by the local laws, but also defend our corporate philosophy regarding the freedom of expression on the Internet,'' she said.
``Our local research and development center is up and running, and our customization efforts are gaining traction. We expect to stay competitive in the Korean market.''