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Small fine for small Google

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Published : 2014-02-10 20:12
Updated : 2014-02-10 21:00

[Reporter's Column] 

Can’t live with it, can’t live without it. This is what most tech-savvy Koreans think when Google comes to mind.

It may be big overseas where it spends billions of dollars to invest in and acquire start-ups. But the global search giant is relatively a “small kid on the block” in Korea, the playground of Naver and Daum.

This is why, for some observers, it seemed fair when Korea‘s communications regulator recently slapped Google with a fine of just 210 million won ($196,000).

It may be a very small price to pay for the U.S.’ second-most valuable company, which gathered personal data and broke the law during its Street View operations amid rising public concerns about privacy here.

Executives of credit card companies have been harshly scorned for lax security that led to massive data leaks.

Google, in stark contrast, managed to avoid prosecution and much public outcry over illicit data gathering, in which its Korean unit spokeswoman Lois Kim admitted and apologized in a statement to the press following the Korea Communications Commission’s disciplinary action, a couple of days after it said it was unaware of the situation.

The penalty imposed on Google may have been light compared to what card issuers are expected to face in a concurrent scandal, and what Naver and Daum will have to pay for allegedly abusing their power over small and medium advertisers.

The Korean unit of the global search engine is not considered an office, but merely a “division” whose staff, including its small number of engineers, rarely engages in Korean projects.

Its main functions are supporting global projects of other Asian subsidiaries such as those in Singapore, industry sources said.

The most active business Google Korea participates in locally is perhaps promoting content through its video platform YouTube, a source said.

Google may have been the rising force that has changed online advertising and developed the most used mobile operating system, which was criticized by Apple as a copycat of its iOS.

Also, it is emerging into the spotlight in the coming age of big data.

But its significance as a search provider is barely noticeable in Korea, where it continues to struggle, as Yahoo did before it pulled out of the country.

By Park Hyong-ki (hkp@heraldcorp.com)

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