Friday, May 31, 2013

North Korean "world class" ski resort? Read between the lines

According to press reports, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un recently visited a mountain area in Gangwon province to give "on the spot field guidance" on the construction of a new ski resort.   This news, which was also reported in the South Korean media, caught my eye.  However, none of the press reports that I saw drew the obvious inference that I took from the news.  My immediate thought was that the young North Korean leader, who was educated in Switzerland and no doubt familiar with skiing and winter sports from that exposure, was motivated by the impending 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.  Without going into the full argument here, I will simply mention that readers may want to check my earlier post on how the problem of national division affects the forthcoming 2018 Winter Games.
For additional detail on Kim Jong-Un's visit to the Masik Pass in North Korea, read the account published by the Tokyo correspondent of The Telegraph.
Why on earth would North Korea suddenly want to build a "world-class" ski resort in the northern half of Gangwon Province?   I think the most probable explanation is apparent.  The North Korean leadership, fully aware of the approaching 2018 Winter Olympics, and having failed to even participate int he 1988 Seoul Olympics almost three decades ago, wants a bargaining chip.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Scrutinizing North Korea in the information era: crowdsourcing and satellite imagery

In the new globally-networked information environment, it would seem that the North Korean government's efforts to control the flow of information in and out of the country are facing multiple new challenges.  These include crowd-sourcing and the increased use of publicly available satellite imagery by North Korean watchers, both individuals and groups, around the world.
For example, DigitalGlobe has been working for the past several years with the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea to monitor activity at political prisoner camps in North Korea.  A report published in February of this year focused on a facility commonly known as Camp No. 25.  (click on the graphic to see a full size version of the photo here, one of many contained in the report.)
Another example, as reported by Computerworld and in other media, involved an Australian software engineer, David Jorm, who recently completed a weather study that focused on the famine in North Korea during the 1990s.  At a conference in Australia, he said “My research was around using satellite data to try and map the impact of the famine. I had a theory that because people would be harvesting crops before they were ready this would result in land degradation. From satellite sensing, you would be able to see that they had a certain level of agricultural productivity and after the famine it was reduced. I did this research and proved that this is what happened.” As Jorm noted in his presentation, there are a variety of free and commercial sources of satellite imagery available today. For example, Google Maps now contains names of towns, provinces and street names in North Korea. This was due to crowd-sourced information entered into Google's online Map Maker tool.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Malware: The downside of Microsoft's "monoculture" in Korea

As readers of this blog will know, I've commented frequently on the "Microsoft monoculture" in South Korea, most recently in a December 2012 post.  Consequently, coverage in the local press of Microsoft's latest Security Intelligence Report caught my eye as it contained more evidence of the negative side effects of over reliance on Microsoft software.
As shown in a line graph from the report (click on the graphic to see a full size version), Korea ended the year with a malware infection rate of 93.0, much higher than the other locations with high infection rates.  The report explains that the spikes in the infection rates were mainly due to increased detection of the rogue security software family Win32/Onescan.  Onescan is a Korean-language rogue security software distributed under a variety of names, brands and logos. (click on Figure 40 from the Microsoft Report to see a full size version of the "VaccineHelper" example)  In the fourth quarter of 2012, miscellaneous Trojans were found on 75.6% of all computers scanned in Korea. Furthermore, the report noted that Windows XP retains a larger market share in Korea than in most other large countries and regions.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Google-Samsung and the Android Ecosystem

A study by Strategy Analytics shows that Samsung currently captures nearly 95 percent of global Android system smartphone profits.  (click on Exhibit 1 from the report to see a full-sized version of the graphic)  Along with LG, the two Korean companies reportedly account for 97 percent of operating profits from the sale of Android smartphones worldwide.
The Strategy Analytics news release also included the following interesting observation by Neil Mawston, Executive Director. “Samsung is, for now, the undisputed king of the global Android smartphone industry. We believe Samsung generates more revenue and profit from the Android platform than Google does. Samsung has strong market power and it may use this position to influence the future direction of the Android ecosystem. For example, Samsung could request first or exclusive updates of new software from Android before rival hardware vendors.”

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Naver, Korea's "Walled Garden" and Economic Democracy

As reported in the Joongang Daily and other Korean papers today, "The government’s first IT target in its campaign for “economic democratization” is Naver, the nation’s largest Web portal site, and its aggressive expansion into various services. (click on the accompanying graphic to see a full-sized version) The Fair Trade Commission is currently conducting an investigation into NHN, the operating company of Naver." The investigation is in line with the government's economic democratization drive, aimed at creating a sound online market that protects small players.
To place this news in larger perspective, one must consider that Korea is still among a small handful of the world's nations in which Google does not hold a leading market share.  Google's near-universal popularity is based on the fact that its robots index the largest portion of the so-called "visible web."  Consequently, people interested in a comprehensive search for information use Google.  Incidentally, my undergraduate students at KAIST, both Korean and international overwhelmingly favor Google as a search engine.
As readers of this blog will know I've been very interested in the continued popularity of Naver, given the dramatic differences with Google in terms of what it does.  (see numerous posts by entering "Naver" in the search bar at the right)  Basically, Naver deals exclusively with Korean language source material and formats its search results in a manner that appeals to Koreans.   It appears much more like a web portal than a search engine and its most popular feature, by far, is called "knowledge-in," which allows users to ask a question, which is then answered in Korean by other Naver users.  Naturally, the "knowledge-in" database has grown tremendously over the years.
The most interesting thing about the current news of an FTC investigation is that Naver epitomizes the continuing "walled garden" character of Korea's internet.  Whatever else one may say on the matter, those who rely on Naver search results are choosing from a relatively small universe of Korean-language content, rather than the far larger universe of content on the visible web.  In today's global economy, it would seem that Korea's efforts to move in the direction of stronger software, content and services will eventually mean a shift from the heavy reliance on Naver toward Google or other search tools, yet to come, that are more global in their scope.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

President Park Geun-hye proposes peace park in the DMZ

In her address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress, delivered in English, President Park Geun-hye proposed that a peace park be established inside the Korean demilitarized zone (DMZ). She told the assembled members of congress, "60 years ago, a stretch of earth bisecting the Korean Peninsula was cleared of arms. Today, that demilitarized zone drawn to prevent armed collision is the most militarized place on the planet. And the standoff around the DMZ has the potential to endanger global peace. We must defuse that danger. Not just South and North Korea. The world must also get involved. The demilitarized zone must live up to its name, a zone that strengthens the peace not undermines it. It is with this vision in mind that I hope to work toward an international park inside the DMZ. It will be a park that sends a message of peace to all of humanity. This could be pursued in parallel with my Trust-building Process. There, I believe we can start to grow peace -- to grow trust. It would be a zone of peace bringing together not just Koreans separated by a military line, but also the citizens of the world. I call on America and the global community to join us in seeking the promise of a new day."
President Park did not make mention of the existing international proposal  by the DMZ Forum for Peace and Nature Conservation, which was the subject of a post on this blog in May of 2012.  (click on the graphic at the left to see a full size version of the map outlining their peace park proposal) However, on the face of it, the proposal could presumably draw upon the efforts of this group.  The enlarged area of the proposed peace park on the eastern side of the Korean peninsula encompasses northern and southern reaches of Gangwon province, the only province in Korea that is divided by the DMZ.
The full text of President Park Geun-hye's address to the joint session of congress in Washington, D.C. was published by Yonhap News and can be read at this link.  For readers who wish to see a video of the entire speech, it has been published on the website of the clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

U.S. and Korea to pursue science and ICT policy partnership

Some of the news coming out of President Park Geun-hye's visit to the United States is encouraging and relates to topics treated in this blog.   Specifically, I'm referring to the announcement in connection with her visit to Washington that the United States and South Korea will begin regular bilateral consultations on ICT policy.  As noted in a fact sheet on the United States -- Republic of Korea alliance  released by the spokesperson of the U.S. State Department yesterday, "U.S.-ROK cooperation on information and communications technology policy, Internet issues, and cybersecurity continues to expand. Both countries are pleased to announce that bilateral consultations on cyber issues will take place this summer, in preparation for the Seoul Conference on Cyberspace on October 17-18, 2013. The United States and Republic of Korea have decided to establish a bilateral Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Policy Forum. The ICT Policy Forum will be a recurring dialogue to address policy issues vital to the ICT sector and the Internet economy, including issues such as data privacy, regulatory practices, Internet freedom, and Internet governance."
I would simply note that the establishment of this bilateral policy forum is long overdue and that it promises to be a mutually beneficial endeavor.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Official Pyeongchang 2018 emblem released

As reported  by The Korea Times and other media, the organizing committee for the Pyeongchang 2018 winter olympics has released its official emblem.  (click on the graphic to see a full-size version).   As noted in the article, the emblem is based upon the hangul alphabetic characters at the beginning of each consonant in "Pyeongchang."  However, readers should note that the first symbol is an accurate representation of the consonant as written in Hangul, while the second is not a reproduction of the hangul character, but rather an asterisk-like character that can be viewed as a snowflake or human character.
The release of the emblem is a reminder that the 2018 Winter Olympics are only five years off.  Given the current tensions between North and South Korea, this raises some interesting issues, most especially because the Olympics will be hosted in Gangwon province, the only province in Korea that is divided, as is the nation, by the demilitarized zone.  (see my earlier post)