Google, Facebook pressured for transparency in Korea

Facebook Korea recently commented that their headquarters were currently in discussions with telecommunication businesses to provide a better environment for Korean users.
Facebook Korea recently commented that their headquarters were currently in discussions with telecommunication businesses to provide a better environment for Korean users. PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (Korea Herald/Asia News Network) - Global tech giants Google and Facebook are under increasing pressure from South Korean authorities and lawmakers to be “transparent and fairer” in running their businesses here.  

Kim Sang-jo, head of the nation’s antitrust watchdog, said Sunday he is “reviewing” how to regulate Google and Facebook’s alleged abuses of market dominance. 

“(Google and Facebook are) sweeping information without paying a dime here on the network set up by taxpayers’ money,” said Kim, who is known as a “chaebol sniper,” in an interview with Yonhap News Agency. 

He was recently appointed the chairman of the Korea Fair Trade Commission by President Moon Jae-in. 

“This is an issue from the perspective of not only the industry but also authorities. We should cautiously study how to approach this issue,” the FTC head added. 

Kim’s remark is in line with the latest bill proposed by Rep. Oh Se-jeong of the smaller opposition People’s Party. 

Last week, Oh proposed the bill to revise the Telecommunications Business Act to require global firms to make financial and business information public, as Korean firms do.  

His proposal was triggered by a recent dispute between Facebook and local internet service providers SK Broadband and LG Uplus.

Last month, Facebook demanded the expansion of private networks from SK and LG with their own money on the surge of users and data use for the US social media site. When their demand was denied, the US tech firm blocked local users from accessing the site using servers located in Korea. Local users had to access the site via servers located in Hong Kong and the US, which made their access slower. 

Despite the inconvenience caused from the incident, the government was not able to arbitrate in the matter due to a lack of information and knowledge of the US firm, according to Oh.

“The government should secure accurate information to set up measures and guidelines for the global firms,” Oh said. 

Google has also been under fire for years for alleged abuses of its Android operating system’s market dominance. 

The FTC recently resumed its investigation into Google for the charges of pre-installing the Google app in smartphones using the Android operating system. 

According to Rep. Cheon Hae-cheol from the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, Google signed an agreement with Samsung in 2011 to set Google’s search as the default and include its 12 apps, YouTube and Gmail among them, on the front screen of Samsung phones. It also reportedly required Samsung not to develop a new OS using Android’s algorithm.

The FTC, which began investigating the issue in 2011, dropped the case after three years, citing that Google’s market dominance was only around 10 percent in Korea. It resumed the investigation recently, as the share of mobile Android OS has increased since.  

“Despite tens of millions of dollars Facebook and Google gain here, they pay no tax and demand private network (usage) for free. This can be seen only as the tyranny of a market-dominating company,” said Shin Min-soo, a professor at Hanyang University. 

The two companies have steadfastly contended that they abide by all the relevant regulations and rules of South Korea.

Facebook Korea, recently, commented that their headquarters were currently in discussions with telecommunication businesses to provide a better environment for Korean users.