Last week, YouTube (s GOOG) responded in unprecedented fashion to demands by a foreign government. Recent Korean legislation requires sites to verify users’ citizen identity numbers before allowing them to post any publicly viewable content on a Korean web site. That covers even a simple comment on a news story, so as for uploading a video to YouTube? — don’t even think about trying to be anonymous.
Rather than comply with what’s widely perceived as a privacy invasion, Google elected to voluntarily disable comments and video uploads from Korean user accounts. That way Koreans can use the site passively and anonymously. The company event went so far as to spell out that Korean users are free to choose a different country setting when they want to participate more fully in the site. After choosing a different country they can then set the language to Korean and then upload and comment away like normal.
YouTube has had to deal with a barrage of government demands in the last few years, facing shutdowns in India, Turkey, and Brazil, and once Pakistan‘s attempt to block the site lead to a global outage. YouTube has at times responded by limiting local access to its site, but in a way that complies government demands rather than skating around them. For instance, in 2006, it censored defamatory videos of Thailand’s king in order to keep the rest of its site available to Thai users.
Tom Foremski wonders at CNET if the Korean move is a tactic by Google to gain market share in a country where it has a tiny user base.
Korean tech analyst Jean K. Min posted the full Google statement on his blog:
We have a bias in favour of people’s right to free expression in everything we do. We are driven by a belief that more information generally means more choice, more freedom and ultimately more power for the individual. We believe that it is important for free expression that people have the right to remain anonymous if they choose.
Because of Real Name Verification Law in Korea we have voluntarily disabled comments and video uploads when using YouTube in Korea with the Korea country setting, so you will not be required to verify your identity.
You will still be able to enjoy watching and sharing videos on YouTube. You may still upload videos and comments without proving your identity by choosing a non-Korean country setting from the top of any YouTube page.
We understand that this may affect your experience on YouTube. Thank you in advance for your understanding. We hope that you continue to enjoy and participate in the YouTube community.