Bits on user data and locus of power

This is a (slightly corrected version of a) short memo I delivered to my friend over an argument about whether web browsers are the center of power over user data in Korea.

I, for one, do not believe that web browsers are the locus of power under the Korean context. Even with more than 99% of the web browser market tied to Microsoft Internet Explorer (most of which are just IE6 bundled with Windows XP), Microsoft Korea does little to handle user data in contrast to major web service providers such as NHN and Daum. Compared to all the endeavor these web sites try to collect every little detail of you, it is almost unnecessary to address web browsers as the key culprit to deprivation of individual privacy on the web. Theoretically, though, the web browsers are the gateway to user data, but practically they do little role in the Korean Internet market.

If one is more inclined to address user rights and privacy under the Korean context, I think it would be more viable to focus on the mobile communications market. Major cellular phone service operators such as SK Telecom and KTF are notorious for “nefariously” mishandling customer data and turning them over to advertisers (perhaps unintentionally but nonetheless infringingly). Combined with an insight into web portals like Naver and Daum, a research of privacy issues on mobile phones would reveal the attributes of the structural system in the techno-institutional environment established in Korea today. Moreover, web portals and mobile phones are two sets of electronic devices/services on which people are electronically identified everyday. What better areas for one to advance one’s own inquiry in association with privacy?

Every bits of information that both web service providers and mobile phone operators collect from you, direct knowledge about what you are–your name, address, phone number, individually identifiable number, job status, marital status, and other stuff–are far more overwhelming than what web browsers may put together, which can be limited to indirect, pattern knowledge about where you surf to.


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