[Desk Column] Is Google being bullied in Korea?

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Mar 18, 2014 - 20:58
  • Updated : Mar 18, 2014 - 20:58
Type in “Google payment system error” on any search engine here and you’ll get a long list of people complaining of payment disasters, both big and small.

The list comes complete with solutions from those who have been there and done it. Some offer sympathy, while yet others fume at the lack of compassion and knowledge on the part of the call center employees. But we all know it is not their fault.

Most of the blame lies with the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning, which authorized Google Payment Korea in the first place, even though Google had not met the preconditions.

This is an indication that from the start, Korean officials had been ready to give privileges to the U.S. company, and it has touched off a recent investigation by the state auditor.

As we all know, Google is a powerful business partner to Samsung, and it has been involved in a number of big projects with several ministries here, including the Science Ministry and the Culture Ministry.

This leaves the question, what exactly is the nature of Google’s relationship with Korea?

“I think there is a new message being sent out to Google,” said an anonymous source.

The message is that the government will not be allowing any individual or company to get off scot free when discovered to have been involved in irregularities, and Google will be no exception.

That explains the recent fines Google was slapped with for unauthorized information gathering. And not too many people may remember, but the fines went up an extra few notches because Google refused to cooperate.

Some, however, believe Google may be being bullied, saying that the government, hand in hand with companies here that might not want Google to become a bigger presence, may be working together.

Google certainly has been catching up as a search engine, as it is now more frequently referred to than Daum.

But that’s not enough to tell the whole story. Google has yet to shed light on its closet full of skeletons, including the fact that no one knows exactly how much it pays in Korean taxes, despite ringing up annual sales of up to 400 billion won ($374 million).

I do want to leave open the possibility that we may all be going overboard with the conspiracy theories, and this really is just a straightforward story about consumers seeking better services from a foreign company.

So I guess we will see. In the meantime, it would help if Google would speak out about its stance on these and other controversial issues instead of evading the public and the media, saying it needs to get authorization from its headquarters. 

By Kim Ji-hyun, Business Desk editor