Protecting personal information

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Protecting personal information

Household big-tech multinationals Google and Meta have been fined by the Korean government for the first time for violating local privacy law. On Wednesday, the Personal Information Protection Commission fined Google 69.2 billion won ($50 million) and Meta 30.8 billion won. The punitive action carries great significance as it sets the grounds for IT companies to respect privacy rights of the users if they wish to use their information for their business during the dramatic transition to the digital age.

Before imposing the fines on them, the information protection commission investigated not just the multinationals but also Korean platforms like Naver and Kakao on their possible activities of stocking and using consumer behavioral information for their business. Behavioral data refers to a collection of information about online activities of consumers by studying their interests and likes through their website visits and use, shopping, and search records. Portal sites collect huge profit by customizing digital ads through studies on consumer interests and tendencies.

Google and Meta were slapped with unprecedented fines for collecting and analyzing the information on their users to personalize ad services without informing them clearly or getting their approval. Most of the users — 82 percent in the case of Google and over 98 percent in the case of Meta — have been agreeing to information collection without their awareness, which goes against the local privacy law. Unlike in Korea, the two platforms enable their users in the European Union to choose a privacy option.

The commission ordered the two foreign platforms to clearly ask users if they will agree to the collection of information for behavioral studies and application and have them make a choice. The fines are paltry compared to the huge revenue the two platforms have been earning in Korea from their personalized digital ads. Both companies issued statements of their regret over the punishment instead of apologizing to users, which hints at the possibility of them taking legal action against the decision.

The data law revised by the National Assembly in August 2020 enhanced privacy terms and at the same allowed companies to use their users’ data for their business. Platforms can use user information, but they must give a choice to the users in advance and promise the protection of their private information. The two multinationals must comply with Korean laws if they wish to continue business here. If they do not change their unauthorized practices, they could face greater punishments or eventually be shunned from the market.
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