Naver rakes it in from dirty sites

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Naver rakes it in from dirty sites

Mr. Kang, a 31-year-old office worker, had a stiff shoulder. He decided to use Naver, the country’s largest search-engine, to find a therapeutic massage service. He found one “cafe,” or community site, offering information about massage shops, including recommendations by other members of the cafe. He registered as a member.

Only then did he realize he had joined a sex massage cafe.

“I have no idea why Naver is letting those illegal sites keep plying their businesses,” Kang told the JoongAng Ilbo. “It isn’t doing anything to drive them out.”

Naver, which has a 70 percent share of Korea’s search-engine industry, is an online center for sex-industry brokers helping potential clients find sex services through such community sites, or cafes.

In return, the businesses offering sex services spend a lot advertising on Naver’s community sites.

The Korea Communications Commission reports that the number of illegal community sites it discovered on portals including Naver and Daum soared during the first half of this year to 1,113 from 80 in 2009.

And most were on Naver.

“It turns out Naver has three times more than Daum,” said a commission official speaking on the condition of anonymity. “There’s been a four-fold increase in the number of such illegal sites busted by the commission on Naver over the past five years.”

Daum is Korea’s second largest search portal.

The largest group of illegal sites offer information about sex massages or “kiss rooms,” which in theory offer girls to kiss, although they often offer much more.

If you search for the words “massage” or “kiss rooms” on Naver, you will get nearly 80 community sites. Although some are legitimate massage clinics, it isn’t hard to find ones with prostitutes.

And some community sites don’t show up on searches. They run under the radar and can only be accessed by people who are introduced by other members.

Once a person joins the racy community sites, they see banner ads for businesses offering sex. Click on the ad and you are directed to the business’s home page.

The people who run the cafes have a reason to be on Naver: Money.

“A single adult site operator spends 300,000 won [$267] a month to put an ad on a community site ,” said a former manager of a cafe that was all about massage places in Seoul. A single cafe normally has ads from 130 adult-themed businesses, he added. That adds up to “tens of millions of won a month,” he said.

Naver is under fire for its lackadaisical attitude toward such racy sites.

“Unless users report those sites [to us or the authorities], it is very challenging to rein them in,” said an official at Naver who didn’t want to be named. He said when the company finds a cafe dedicated to the sex industry, it makes it off-limits to minors and keeps it from showing up in search results.

The former cafe manager said Naver didn’t shut them down because it didn’t want to lose traffic. “Naver never closed down sex-related that were reported to them,” he said. “It merely turned them into non-public cafes.”

“When we find terms implying sexual entertainment or naked bodies on community sites, we demand site operators shut them down,” said an official at the Korea Communications Commission.

“But the most realistic way to address the problem is search sites’ own efforts to root out such sites.”

BY LEE SEONG-HO [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]

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