A new post from a vigilant Korean blogger has once again focused attention on alleged sharp practices by Naver, and other Korean portals, regarding their search results. Worse for domestic portals, the post has started a Twitter firestorm, with a growing number of Korean netizens urging their countryfolk to abandon Naver in favour of Google.
As the Newsface piece points out, a major recent example concerned Shin Jeong-ah, the shamed former Dongguk University art professor who was found to have lied about her academic credentials. In her autobiography, Shin claimed that “C”, a former journalist at the Chosun Ilbo and later a member of the National Assembly, had sexually harassed her in a taxi.
Articles about the incident surged up search rankings until said assemblyman, claiming that the story was defamatory, demanded that Naver remove the results. However, Daum, Naver’s biggest domestic rival, left its results as they were. In addition, results relating to former prime minister Chung Un-chan, who Shin accused in her book of “untoward” behaviour, likewise remained untouched. This, the article says, demonstrated to netizens that Naver was indeed suppressing certain results, but not necessarily in a fair or even-handed manner.
For his part, Kim In-seong, the blogger behind the post, detailed a long and detailed charge sheet against Naver.
First, in accusations also made elsewhere, he says that in order to drive up profit through greater traffic to its own sites, Naver gives preference in searches to illegal reproductions of posts and articles on Naver-affiliated sites, rather than directing users to their original source. Also, he claims…
Domestic portals only care about profit, so they concentrate solely on real-time results of what people are looking at now. This means there is no great diversity in the results, and the overall quality of the search gradually declines. Of course, you have to be able to manipulate real-time search results in order to delete sexual words or other illegal terms, but Naver is choosing to remove certain political terms or search terms that are unfavourable to people in power.
Kim goes on to claim that Naver also manipulates its auto-complete function. To illustrate his point, Kim brings up the case of Han Myeong-sook, the left-wing former prime minister, during recent regional elections.
The screenshot above shows what Kim claims are the results of an auto search before and after the election. At top, entering the first several characters of Han’s name in Korean (“한ㅁ,” the rough equivalent of entering “Han M”) yields not a single reference to Han in the top 13 results. By contrast, the auto-search at the bottom, done immediately after the election, shows up Han Myeong-sook as No. 1, followed by her kids and husband at numbers 4 and 5. In addition, prior to the election, typing as far as “한명ㅅ” (equivalent to “Han Myeong-s”) does produce a Han Myeong-sook, but not, apparently, the Han Myeong-sook, who is nowhere to be seen on the list.
Kim opines that the manipulation of search results by domestic portals “distorts the will of the people,” slants the internet in favour of the powerful and violates the freedom of the press. Continuing, he says:
Foreign [internet] services observing international norms have been unable to enter Korea because of domestic regulations. Throughout that time, portals have been siding with the powerful and manipulating mainstream opinion in return for protection of the market. In order to make Korean sites trusted around the world … users have to start looking for and using sites that play by the rules, even if that means using foreign services.
Kim bemoans the fact that while foreign search engines and services often support multiple languages, Naver often can’t even find text from famous foreign tech sites written in English. He also says that while Korean portals would like to see their search engines installed as the default search on Android phones, this would be “the worst decision” for Korea’s internet environment and even the future of the portals themselves.
Unsurprisingly, Kim’s post has spread like wildfire over Twitter, with many netizens voicing support for his plea for Koreans to switch to other search engines.
I approve of the opinion that we should start using Google search as a form of protest against Naver, which looks out for the powerful. People will say, “This will just fill the bellies of foreign companies,” or, “They’re all just businesses,” but we can always exercise checks and balances through our strategic choices. Between us the important thing is not “patriotic justice,” it’s “humane righteousness.”
According to the Newsface piece, another Tweet read (though I can’t find the link, unfortunately):
After reading what this guy wrote, I too started using Google. After using it for a while, I really got the feeling that Naver’s search is stuck in a quagmire. If you’re a Korean who’s been trapped in Explorer and Naver, you should really read what he wrote.
After this most thorough of fiskings, I should add that I and many people I know use Naver all the time, because it appears to offer the best results for Korea-related information, news, films, restaurants and so on (bowing to competition, it even started including non-Naver-hosted blogs in its search results). In addition, as I noted in a previous post, Naver rebutted claims about its auto-search by saying that it automatically excludes terms that have been entered incorrectly numerous times — although this wouldn’t explain why the term suddenly works again after regional elections are completed.
This article, fascinating as it was, didn’t offer much by way of balance. So, if anyone wants to defend Naver or challenge what Kim wrote, I’d be delighted to hear about it in the comments.
Wouldn’t you know, on one post that may actually get a few responses, the comments are down! If you feel sufficiently moved to reply, however, you can do so on the Footman’s Frothings Facebook page (please “like” the page while you’re at it, too!). Working again, but please feel free to “like” the Facebook page anyway,