Facebook fined for illegally limiting user access

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Facebook fined for illegally limiting user access

The Korea Communications Commission, the telecommunications business regulator, has fined Facebook 396 million won ($369,000) for illegally limiting user access to its services.

The Korean regulator concluded Wednesday that Facebook violated the country’s Telecommunication Business Act by intentionally slowing access to Facebook and Instagram for SK Broadband and LG U+ customers while it negotiated network usage fees with the two providers.

It is the first time a foreign company has been fined for violating the telecoms act, according to the commission. The fine was slapped on Facebook Ireland Limited, which controls Facebook’s Korean operations, the commission said.

The commission has been investigating the case since August last year as customer complaints increased after Facebook’s services suddenly slowed down.

The issue surfaced in December 2016 when SK Broadband subscribers noticed that their connection to Facebook and Instagram had slowed down. The social media company had diverted SK Broadband traffic to a server in Hong Kong instead of a local server in Korea, intentionally slowing down the connection. The further away the server is, the slower the connection.

The data speed of the social media network is determined by the company’s access to a cache server. A cache server is used to save internet content locally in temporary storage, called a cache, so that the speed of access to data is improved. In Korea, Facebook pays KT for access to a cache server, and subscribers to SK Broadband and LG U+ were automatically diverted to KT’s cache server to include their connection.

However, as a local law change meant that KT would have to share the profit from Facebook with SK Broadband and LG U+, KT asked Facebook to pay more or create separate deals with the other two carriers. SK Broadband and LG U+ suggested Facebook set up more cache servers in Korea, but Facebook maintains a “one server, one country” policy worldwide.

As the disagreement continued, Facebook diverted SK Broadband subscribers to a server in Hong Kong in December 2016 and LG U+ users to servers in Hong Kong and the United States early last year. According to the Korea Communications Commission, the shift slowed down connection speeds to Facebook by as much as 4.5 times for SK Broadband subscribers at peak times.

The commission said that while Facebook knew of the customer complaints in Korea, it did not resolve the problem for about 10 months after the issue surfaced in December, a “significant violation” of the telecommunication act.

Facebook argued that it cannot take responsibility for the quality in internet access speeds as it is a content provider and that the slowdown was not significant considering speeds can be slower in other countries.

However, the commission concluded that the decision to divert users based on their service provider was still wrong, and the speeds were considerably slower compared to normal.

Facebook is obligated to openly notify users that it has been ordered to correct its business processes.

The recent scandal regarding the leakage of millions of Facebook users’ data was not included in the investigation that ended Wednesday. The commission urged Facebook to bolster its policies to enhance customer rights as over 12 million people use the service on a daily basis in Korea.


BY KIM JEE-HEE [kim.jeehee@joongang.co.kr]

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