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Data shows Naver deleted Choi-gate keywords

Jan 09,2018
Analysis by a private organization run by a group of internet companies revealed that Naver scrapped more than 10,000 keywords related to people involved in the corruption scandal that toppled the Park Geun-hye administration, raising questions over whether the portal site should be prioritizing the public’s right to know or individuals’ privacy.

According to data from the Korea Internet Self-governance Organization (KISO), released by the office of Rep. Shin Yong-hyeon of the minor opposition People’s Party on Sunday, Naver deleted 15,584 keywords related to figures directly or indirectly engaged in the influence-peddling and bribery scandal surrounding former President Park, her aides and corporate leaders from the chaebol community, between October and November of 2016.

It was during the period when the scandal was gathering steam, triggered by the discovery in mid-October of a tablet PC belonging to Park’s confidante Choi Soon-sil that contained confidential government documents that were not supposed to be in the hands of a civilian.

The No. 1 search engine also scrapped 23,217 search suggestion keywords that automatically pop up when a user started to type the words. For instance, when a user starts to type in “Naver,” “Naver Webtoon” is automatically suggested.

KISO said Naver appears to have removed the keywords at the request of the individuals involved or after deliberate assessment, adding that some of action was “inappropriate.”

For instance, Naver deleted keywords related to Kim Dong-seon, the Hanwha Chairman’s third son and one of the potential heirs to the conglomerate. The deleted terms included the Chung Yoo-ra, Choi’s daughter and a friend of Kim, and dressage. Both Kim and Chung were members of the Korean dressage team that won gold at the 2014 Asian Games.

It turned out Kim asked Naver to get rid of the keywords related to him. The KISO report pointed out that, “Given that sizable suspicions over the deeds of Chung Yoo-ra, one of the key figures in the corruption scandal, had been raised and a probe was still underway, [Naver] erasing the keywords may cause controversy.”

The analysis comes as Naver has been criticized for abusing the most-searched term after it was found in October to have buried an article that was written unfavorably toward the Korean football league after a sports official made a call to the company.

Naver also deleted “a seven-hour operation,” a suggested keyword that used to come up as a result for entering Park Geun-hye. It refers to the widely spread rumor that the former president’s response to the sinking of the Sewol ferry on April 16, 2014 was delayed because she was undergoing plastic surgery.

Naver classified the keyword in its “rumor” category, citing the fact that there was no media report. KISO said it should not be brushed off as a rumor.

“We hope the report triggers a discussion in society over whether the right to know or the right to protect one’s privacy, two conflicting concepts, should be prioritized,” said a Naver spokesman.


BY SEO JI-EUN [seo.jieun@joongang.co.kr]