Mobile phones in South Korea

Mobile phones are quite pervasive in South Korea. OK, being on the move and still be able to phone others or be phoned is the first principle of having a mobile. Or is it? Well, using the mobile phone in South Korea goes well beyond phoning home. Korean mobiles are all capable of accessing the Internet. The mobile (Samsung SPH-W8350) I bought for my stay can navigate all sites without a problem. And it’s very flashy, a thing Koreans like a lot, given their extensive use of flashy neon displays in the streets. The only problem with this phone is flash video, but even the IPhone has a problem with flash video. Furthermore it has many features a smart phone would be proud off.

The price of 80,000 Won combined with a subscription of 20,000 Won per month shows this is a very reasonable price. That is, compared to the Netherlands. They, my students at Yeungnam University,  however mentioned this is an expensive one. So, I should switch to another provider after three months. What? OK, so the phone and the subscription are quite cheap, and I can switch after three months already? In the Netherlands, when you take a combination offer of a mobile phone and a subscription you need to stay at least 12 to 24 months. A few reasons these phones and subscriptions are that cheap probably have to do with the enormous market and fierce competition. This means that the profit can be relatively low. Furthermore, a few of the largest producers of mobile phones are Korean, such as Samsung and LG. As such import taxes don’t apply for the home market.

OK, prices aside, phones are also used for payments. Phones with a special T-money card can be (re)charged at charge stations. Swiping the phone near a receiver deducts money from the card and ergo you’ve paid. You can also pay with T-money cards, but that’s not as sexy as a paying with your mobile.

Korean phones are quite distinctive when you see them. Not so much by their shape, but by the fact that there’s always something attached to it, dangling on a string. This may be various things. The most common attachment is an adapter to charge you phone with. Also attached are miniature T-money cards.

Another use of the mobile phone is using it to tell the time: ask a Korean what time it is and chances are high that s/he will pick up his/her phone to tell the time.

One thing that bothers me a lot though, is the enormous amount of spam I receive on my phone: at least 10 spam messages. I’d hope that some regulatory organization in South Korea would be as tough as the OPTA in the Netherlands who fines spammers up to 250,000 Euro.

As for smart phones, what struck me a couple of weeks ago was that the IPhone was not for sale in South Korea. Apparently, the telecom providers were very apprehensie to introduce it, because the IPhone’s Wifi connectivity could jeopardize there earnings.  With wifi, smart phones can easily use Skype as an alternative. Recently, however, the telecom providers decided to start selling the IPhone in Korea, two and a half years after its introduction. Talking about late adopters.

PS apparently the phone will costs 280 Euro’s in the Netherlands, according to the Dutch website.

Safety and security Korean style

South Koreans value security highly. We all do, and I’m not sure they do so more than in other countries. However, some things struck my eye. For instance, there is an abundance of CCTV camera’s. In parking lots, subway, stores, PC Bangs, apartment blocks and in the streets. They are way ahead of us. Whether that’s a good thing I’m not so sure. Apparently this is being accepted. Korea being a Confucian country, one could ask whether Koreans score high on authoritarianism. In contrast, Great Brittan has many CCTV cameras as well but I suspect they don’t care much for authority, especially since the recent troubles about excessive reimbursements. So, I suspect that there maybe only a small correlation between the acceptance of CCTV and authoritarianism. At the same time, I’ve seen surprisingly little police in the streets, so far. Maybe they are all sitting indoors watching the TV’s.

Home security becomes digital as well. My front door lock comes with a pin code. No I’m not going to tell what it is. To ensure I don’t forget it, I changed it to the same one my mobile phone has. I suspect many of us do this, because with all electronic bank cards and passwords it’s becoming more secure but also  more difficult to remember them all. You’d have to be quite computer savvy to use a password manager and organize all your security info.

Another example of security I encountered was at Starbucks. Yes, as a foreigner you tend to visit Starbucks for the Wifi connection, and so far I counted three locations in Daegu. Anyhow, I opened my laptop and searched for the network. I found the network. But there it stopped. To connect to the Internet I had to provide my foreigner ID number and name. OK, so security is tight, that’s for sure. But apparently, this not only applies to foreigners: Koreans wanting to register at Cyworld have to produce an official ID as well. This means all Internet activity can be traced back to the person. This may be a downside. However, the upside is that communication on Cyworld most likely conforms more to regular social norms and activity and is less controversial.

Internet security is also serious business for the Koreans. According to The Korea Times of September 9th 2009, the Korean Communications Commission (KCC) and the Korea Internet and Security Agency (KISA) plan to have ISPs to monitor customer’s Internet security (e.g. malicious software, bad virus protection). If customers do not comply to minimum rules of computer safety, ISP are compelled to limit or even cut off computers from the Internet. Compare it to compulsory inoculation for the swine flu at the risk of being confined to home for long. Software companies that fail to fix their software vulnerabilities at the risk of their business being suspended. The reason for tightening security is a number of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks last July, affecting more than 80,000 computers. And then on September 13th the Korea Times reported that also 3000 cyber sherrifs are to cruise the web for suspicious activities. This all shows that the Korean government takes its responsibility, not only by promoting the online activities but also securing it.

Below are some pictures on health, safety and security in South Korea:

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The reluctant Web 2.0’er

Ever since the Internet came to my attention, I had a personal interest in it. This entailed surfing the web, downloading movies and music, reading in Usenet groups. All traditional stuff. Then came Web 2.0. And did things change? Well, yes: what was considered normal  to use did not seem normal to me. People asked me whether I Hyve (the activity to communicate and network through the Dutch social network site Hyves). Mmm, I didn’ t. “I’ll befriend you in Facebook!” someone wrote me. “Hold your horses, I don’t have a Facebook account!”, I replied. “Surely you use Twitter”, again someone else told me. “Nope, I don’t”, was my reply. This was some time ago. Not really interested from a personal point of view, that’s clear. Then again, I have my professional interests and found it necessary to experience myself to use Facebook, Hyves, LinkedIn, Twitter, Netlog, ResearcherId, Google docs, Zoho and the like. At first I only subscribed to see what the interfaces looked like, and what the applications could do. So, being a really really really passive participant. But, as often happens, one thing leads to another. Before you know it someone googles your name, and invites you to join his/her network. Well, I think it’s impolite to refuse an invitation, the more so because accepting these invites is merely a mouse click away. However, up till now I mostly accept invites from those I know. Recently I’ve been receiving invites from people unknown to me, and those that offer services that take relations to unwanted next levels. I’m sure you know what I mean. You don’t want to go there.

I’m still quite passive, only accepting invites, and rarely inviting others myself. There are those (even colleagues who shall remain nameless)  that compete with each other on who has the largest online network. This is quite similar as trying to get to most kudos on teen social network sites like Sugababes or Superdudes. But I digress…

Rereading what I am writing I must correct myself on my passivity in using SNSs: last week I even paid for a two year subscription of Flickr, the photo-sharing site. I ran out of the free online disk space. Since I have a website running at a hosting company I have ample disk space to construct my personal photo gallery. It would need some tinkering of the software and the online photo album would be a fact. But I didn’t. Instead I paid about 25 US$ for a two year expansion of the online Flickr disk space. Why? Web 2.0 is so easy to use and saves me a lot of time. And as we all know: time is money. And if I chose to setup my photo album I wouldn’t have time to post to my blog. And I know you don’t want me to stop my blog. So everyone’s happy: Flickr earned a buck, I can keep writing my blog and you can keep on reading.