YouTube’s South Korea Problem

Is Google (NSDQ: GOOG) once again bending its “Don’t be evil” mantra to retain its access to a major Asian market? That’s the suggestion in a report in the Korean paper Hankyoreh, which says that Internet users in South Korea will soon have to enter their resident registration number and name before posting videos or commenting on YouTube Korea, and Google will have to turn over that information to the government if it asks for it.

Google spokeswoman Lois Kim says that while the company has reviewed the law, it hasn’t yet decided how to respond. “Google Korea has … always (taken) the stance that Google respects local law/regulation but at the same time we continue trying to promote freedom of speech on the Internet,” she says.

If Google complies, it would mark the first time that the company has required visitors to its sites to enter such information, and it could set a precedent for how Google reacts in other countries when its services clash with local laws. Just last week, China blocked YouTube, reportedly because a video of Tibetan protesters fighting with police had been posted on the site.

According to Hankyoreh, Google tried to find a way to avoid the requirement “arguing that freedom of expression should be experienced globally by all users, including proposing to shut down YouTube services in South Korea, but to no avail.”

Google has tried to walk a fine line between acquiescing to local laws and ensuring freedom of expression for users of its sites. For instance, it censors its search engine in China, arguing that search results that comply with government bans are better than none at all. But when Google announced it would censor its search results in China, it also said it would delay the introduction of e-mail and blogging services there precisely because of fears that the government could later demand user information from the company. That’s what happened to Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO), which was repeatedly accused of turning over e-mail information that led to the imprisonment of dissidents there.

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