Legal experts dubious of Google‘s change
By Cho Mu-hyun
On the bottom right hand of Google’s Korean website is a clickable menu that reads “personal information privacy and terms,” available in multiple languages.
But once inside the privacy and terms page, there is now an exclusive menu, only available in Korean that reads “additional information concerning privacy for those residing in Korea.”
Google’s recent update comes after it agreed to recommendations by the Korea
In January, the U.S-based Internet company announced its plan to unify all the separate personal data accumulated over the years of operating over 60 services.
The information collected by one of Google’s service can be shared with its myriad of other platforms, such as YouTube, Gmail, Google TV, Google+, Web History and Blogger.
After the announcement, Google said on its website that it scrapped 60 different privacy policies and replaced them with one to “create one beautifully simple and intuitive experience.”
The recent update on its official website for Koreans is in response to the protests. But unfortunately, many don’t see it as a sufficient answer to their call.
“Google had better tighten security if they are to proceed with this unifying,” said office worker Tony Cho.
“It is mere addition of unnecessary procedure. If an entity such as Google wishes to extract personal information, it can do so. The series of additional notice boards is just a hassle, for users here and worldwide,” said a legal expert in a large domestic corporation, asking not to be named.
“Besides, I barely noticed the update that supposedly happened sometime in mid-April. Internet users of Korea have been robbed of their personal information multiple times already, so nowadays they almost believe an established fact that their data will be taken.”
Korea, one of the most wired countries in the world, has gone through three major personal information leaks by domestic Internet service providers Nate, Auction and GS Caltex, which has resulted in multiple lawsuits here.
The incidents happened from outright poor management of the companies as well as hackers gaining access to servers. Nearly 95 percent of Koreans have Internet access and plug in daily, and are very conscious of online information security.
“Korea is now numb by such violations of privacy. There should have been class actions when the domestic incidents happened. Only 0.01 percent of 10 million potential victims filed lawsuits. Now there is an atmosphere of passive action against such violations,” said the legal manager.
"A practical sanction against Google, an American company, by the KCC is impossible as Google needs only to follow the Korean private information protection act within Korea. There is a strong distrust against KCC (by Koreans), and they really have no power against Google. It is Google who holds the key, and we can only hope they act responsibly,” he added.
The legal expert called Google’s announcement in January “catching people off guard,” when so many in Korea are “defenseless” against a company that is an inseparable part of their lives.
“Google is entwined with an average person’s daily life now, by its search engine and smartphones, and so many of its other platforms. As a user myself, it is discomforting and regrettable that I can’t just suddenly not use Google after it decided to unify the privacy policies,” he said.
The vexation over Google’s new policy is a global phenomenon. Multiple lawsuits against Google are ongoing in the United States.
Lawmakers of various nations of the European Union have slammed it as bordering on illegal and privacy advocates are protesting strongly since the initial announcement of the merging of personal data.
The company founded by Larry Page’s assertion of efficiency in data management was met by concerns in the United States and the European Union amid security concerns that hackers will target the huge repository of personal data, now an easier target as gathered on a single server.
Google, nonetheless, proceeded with the unifying move.
“What the KCC recommended to Google, and what it accepted are both very minor and will not greatly help (in protecting personal information),” replied a lawyer specializing in the area of a domestic law firm, who declined to be named in an email inquiry by the Korea Times.
“Such areas as (being able to) delete certain personal information may have some importance but there is no concrete information on how (Google) plans to increase or maintain security so we must wait some time before we know whether the added information will assist users in protecting their data.”
According to the lawyer, there is some controversy between the KCC, Ministry of Public Administration and Security (MOPAS) and the Korean Council on the Protection of Personal Information (KCPPI) on which two laws supervising the issue should be implemented: the recently enacted Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA) or the Information and Telecommunication Act (ITA).
Though the lawyer considers the issue under the ITA, the three related organizations are yet to settle the matter.
The ITA states that if the user agrees to the collection and use of data by a company, it is hard to label the practice illegal.
“Posting additional information for notice does not need legal consent. Therefore, just having additional information without consent has some possibility of being deemed against telecommunication regulations, but it is too minor to pose a real problem. Every corporation that offers a global service has this problem and it is hard to consider it a real issue,” he said.
The lawyer also addressed his concerns of privacy policies on other large portal companies.
“Korea has world-class information protection regulations. However, the amount of personal data collected in various services is also world class. There is a mood that employing real names online will close the matter but I believe this paradox within the domestic community begs more interest,” he added.