Korean Websites and ActiveX Controls

Today I am going to tell you a sad story, a very sad story. In South Korea, 94% of households have Interne access, the highest index among the countries in the OECD. Over here 100 Mbps speeds are common (in fact, I have 100 Mbps at home for around $35 per month). However, in this country, there is only one choice when it comes to web browsers: Internet Explorer.

¿The reason? The evil ActiveX controls, enemies of any browser different from the one that comes “imposed” by the Microsoft Windows operating system. Basically, any Korean website involving secure transactions (bank websites, e-shopping, e-government, etc.) requires ActiveX controls. This has specially affected Mozilla Firefox, IE’s main competitor, which has already presented this subject to the Korean Fair Trade Commission.

Sadly, in South Korea, most people just don’t know that there are alternatives to IE. IE’s market share in Korea last month was 98.66%. Mozilla Firefox and the new Google Chrome together hardly reached 1%, Safari had 0.17% and Opera 0.04%:

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Source: TechnoKimchi, Logger.co.kr

Just as example, I have bank accounts in four Spanish banks, one american bank, and one Korean bank (not because I have a lot of money, but because I don’t like to put all my eggs in one basket). I can access all my bank accounts online from (almost) any operating system and/or web browser, but the one in Korea. The only account that requires IE (and hence, Microsoft Windows) is the Korean one. And what happens if I try to access this bank account from Firefox in my Ubuntu Linux? This:

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A little window suggests me (in perfect Korean) to install Windows XP SP2. And we are talking about one of the main banks in South Korea. It’s the same with ALL OF THEM. Sad, isn’t it?

For those who what to know more about this topic, the root of this problem is perfectly explained here (warning: only for freaks).

By the way:

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Launch of Online Free Expression Day

Today, march 12th 2008, has been the first Online Free Expression Day. This initiative has been organized by Reporters Without Borders, a French NGO which, among other things, has published a list of Internet “enemies” countries. In this list, there are countries where the severity of the situation is knownby all, such as China, North Korea, Cuba or Vietnam.

The truth is South Korea, a country that regards itself as a developed country and that wants to be among the technologically most advanced countries in the world, also censors the Internet. This censorship mainly affects pornographic or North Korea related websites (not all of them, only a few actually). Obviously, there are always methods to access these websites through web proxies. 😉

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When searching google.co.kr for the keyword “sex” no pornographic links are shown (besides, coincidentally I hope, the first link is a documentary about comfort-women used by the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II).

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To see all the results from the search, you have to prove you are over 19 by entering your Korean name and ID.

Learning English On-line

Last Tuesday I received a phonecall from my friend Yoon-Jung. She wanted me to pose as a model for a newspaper article in the Digital Times, a Korean IT-oriented newspaper. Of course, I accepted 😀

They needed someone who looked as a foreigner (basically, anyone with light hair and big eyes). In Korea (just like in all Asia in general), people usually can’t distinguish a Spaniard from an American, we all are just “oegugin” (foreigner). In the picture, I’m supposed to be an English native teacher, and Yoon-Jung is my student. She’s learning English through Skype video-conference, a pretty good idea, taking into account that:

  1. English has become a key factor among young generations in South Korea. When it comes to getting a job after graduation, I’d say South Korea is one of the most competitive countries in the world, and being able to communicate in English is absolutely mandatory in today’s global business world.
  2. The Internet has become an essential part of life in Korea, specially among high-school and college students, who usually prefer to chat with friends rather than actually meet them. Besides, Internet connectivity is practically ubiquitous in South Korea, and seeing people surfing the web or chatting on the bus or subway is not uncommon at all these days, so why not learning English while you are in the subway on your way home?

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The newspaper article.

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Detail of the picture, with Yoon-Jung talking to me by Skype video call.