Tuesday, August 17, 2010

North Korea using Twitter and YouTube

The New York Times carried an interesting article today on how North Korea is using Twitter and YouTube to bolster its propaganda efforts.  During the last month, a series of video clips have been posted to YouTube, brimming with vitriol and satire against leaders in South Korea or in the U.S.  During the past week, North Korea also began operating a Twitter account under the name uriminzok or "our nation."
A spokesman for the National Unification Ministry in Seoul said “It is clear that these accounts carry the same propaganda as the North’s official news media, but we have not been able to find out who operates them." The two Koreas agreed to stop their psychological war after their first summit meeting in 2000, but the situation has changed following the sinking of a South Korean warship in the West Sea earlier this year.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Mobile Communication Reportedly Grows in North Korea

The Korea Times reported the other day that cell phones are becoming more popular in North Korea, and the article included some recent data.  The number of North Koreans with a state-approved cell phone reached nearly 185,000 as of the end of June, operator Orascom Telecom said Thursday, as more citizens have mobile access after a recent government expansion of services. Egypt’s Orascom, which operates the mobile operator Koryolink in partnership with the North Korean regime, said in a first-half report that services have expanded to several cities other than Pyongyang and that 184,531 subscribers had signed up as of June 30.
Although 60 percent of North Korea's citizens now technically have access to mobile communication, the network reportedly excludes cities near the border with South Korea because authorities fear the proximity could allow cross-border communication.  According to Orascom, foreigners, middle class people and young people are all taking advantage of the service.  However, according to Radio Free Asia, North Koreans have to pay a steep price to go mobile.  Customers must pay the equivalent of $250 for a phone, in addition to high-priced pre-paid minutes.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Some Context for the Police Raid on Google Korea Offices

Press reports provide additional context surround the policy raid on Google Korea's offices, as noted in my previous post.  As reported in The Korea Times, the raid here was unexpected, as the company had been talking closely with the Korea Communications Commission on how to handle the data it had collected.  Talks with the KCC were reportedly focused more on retrieving the data than on destroying it and the police raid came as a surprise.  Korea is one of about a dozen countries, including the U.S., Canada, Germany, France, Britain and Australia, that are investigating whether Google broke their privacy laws in pushing out he localized versions of street view.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Police Raid the Office of Google Korea

As reported in most of the local media and in The New York Times, Korean police raided the offices of Google Korea on Tuesday as part of an investigation into whether the company had illegally collected and stored personal wireless data.  The search company is already facing lawsuits and investigations in several countries in connection with private wireless data collected for its Street View service.From late last year until May, Google Korea dispatched cars topped with cameras to cruise around the country to photograph neighborhoods before the planned introduction of Street View. The police suspect that those cars might have illegally captured and stored personal data from wireless networks while they were mapping streets, a statement by the Cyber Terror Response Center of the Korean National Police Agency said. Google said it would cooperate with the investigation. This is a story that bears following, especially since Google is already facing investigations and questions in several other countries on this same issue.

Monday, August 9, 2010

iPhone App is a Step Toward Korea's Smart Grid

I've commented in earlier posts on Korea's smart-grid pilot project in Jeju.  Now, in an interesting related development, the Korea Power Exchange has released an app for the iPhone.  Reportedly, this makes Korea the first country in the world (certainly it is one of the first) to put real-time data on electric power supply and consumption on the mobile internet.  The English application is quite well done and very informative.  I assume the Korean side of the service is, if anything, even more informative.   In addition to tracking current electricity supply and demand levels, the service has historical data, future projections, information on electricity pricing and more.  It has a very nice explanation of the future changes coming to the market for electric power here and around the world with the advent of the smart-grid era.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Impact of Information in North Korea: More Middle Class Defectors?

An article in the Chosun Ilbo today reports on speculation that more middle class people are beginning to defect from North Korea, following the utter failure of that nation's currency reform last year.  While the article does not present numbers or hard evidence, it would be surprising if this new trend is not the case.   In addition to the currency reform, the article notes that  the spread of South Korean pop culture through videos and CDs clandestinely circulated in the North has also encouraged some middle and higher-class North Koreans to flee.
The article simply underscores the critical role of communication and information in solving the overarching political problem in Korea:  national division.   This has been the subject of numerous earlier posts.  The following are some main considerations.

  • The continued growth of  telecommunications infrastructure disparity between South and North Korea--the world's largest and most poignant "digital divide."
  •  The current rapid expansion of mobile broadband (a.k.a. "smart phones" --Apple, Android and others) and other digital technology is making it more difficult for the North Korean government to keep information out.  It comes in via mobile phone, MP3 players, DVD and so forth.
  • North Korea ultimately faces the same dilemma as China, with its "Great Firewall," ---either accept the internet and see your economy participate in global growth, or reject it and stagnate economically.
  • Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in 1948 stated that "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."    This was re-affirmed in the present century by the World Summit on the Information Society.   North Korean citizens are being denied this right.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Hiatus: An Explanation for the lack of posts recently

I just realized that the interval during which I have not posted a single entry on this blog is the longest since I started it almost three years ago.   Here's why.  As most of you know, I have a full-time day job with the Fulbright Commission and that is quite busy during this 60th anniversary year of the Fulbright Commission in Korea.  However, there is another reason, relating to the origins of this blog.

I've been working on a new book, to be published early next year by Routledge.   It is titled Digital Development in Korea:  Building an Information Society  and is co-authored with an individual who, more than any other single person, is credited with energizing South Korea's ICT sector back in the 1980s, leading to the "Telecommunications Revolution" here in that decade.  Routledge is already publicizing its availability.

When I started this blog, it was initially with the thought of using it as a sort of "electronic scrapbook" in connection with writing a new book.  At that time, I didn't know that Dr. Oh and I would eventually choose to co-author a book, and I was uncertain about the role of this blog.  However, I've met quite a number of interesting people through this medium, and so it has served its purpose beyond my expectations.

I'll have more to say about the the book as it gets closer to publication.