Social media is an important digital platform to build social networks and share activities. According to the Korea Internet & Security Agency, around 55 percent of South Koreans used social media in 2013, and the number is expected to rise this year.
With more personal information being exposed online, however, experts are voicing concerns about privacy issues. They say digitalized personal information can be a target for hackers or criminals, who attempt to take advantage of such data.
“South Korea has focused on building an information society in the last few decades at the expense of privacy. Not many people are aware of the seriousness of privacy issues and the government has not done enough to protect users’ personal information online,” Kang Hong-yol, a senior researcher at the Korea Information Society Development Institute, said in an interview with The Korea Herald.
Kang Hong-yol, senior researcher at the Korea Information Society Development Institute (KISDI)
Kang said that it is time for the government to shift its focus toward protecting users’ privacy.
For starters, it is important to increase the public awareness about the need to protect personal information. “Information leaks are a kind of social danger, but people do not usually recognize the problem until they experience it themselves. The government should help the public to be aware of the issue,” Kang said.
Several state-run organizations including the Korea Internet & Security Agency run online campaigns on data protection. “Together with the campaigns, it is also important to present real examples for the public to accurately recognize the danger of privacy issues,” he said.
Stronger government responses to security breaches are also needed, Kang said. Compared to penalties for offline crimes, the country’s measures against cybercrime are not strict enough. With the related regulations outdated, Korea has suffered a series of massive data thefts in financial, retail and telecoms sectors in recent years.
“Online social networks are already part of our lives. The implication of information leakage (on social networks) can be as serious as a crime in the real world. The interpretations of criminal laws should be changed so that they can cover information security.”
Kang said companies should set up stronger safety solutions to protect client data.
“In many cases, users’ confidential information is disclosed through (companies’) own mistakes. Sometimes, one person’s mistake could reveal the information of hundreds of users in group chats. Companies should install adequate safeguards to prevent users from making such mistakes,” Kang said.
He also said the government should protect Koreans who use foreign services such as Facebook, Google and Amazon.
“Currently, governments in European countries are attempting to protect their users by regulating Internet companies mostly based in the U.S.
It is important for the Korean government to partner with European countries to protect users’ privacy,” he said.
Last month, Google started deleting information requested by users after the European Court of Justice ruled that individuals had the right to ask search engines to delete links to information about them in certain circumstances.
Microsoft also followed suit this month in applying Europe’s new policy on what is known as “the right to be forgotten.” The company launched a webpage to receive requests from European users who want to delete old or outdated search results involving their names.
Given the latest developments at home and abroad, Kang stressed the importance of cooperation among the parties involved. “Security issues for social media are not simple to deal with. They can only be solved when all the parties in question ― individuals, companies, governments ― make joint efforts,” he said.
By Shin Ji-hye (email@example.com