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South Korea Sharpens Its Censorship Knife

South Korea Sharpens Its Censorship Knife

Today in international tech news: South Korea is in the spotlight for its crackdown on Internet criticism of the government. Also: A paper publishes an article on how successful -- or unsuccessful -- it has been on getting people to pay for content on iPads, and a hit Indian TV show enlists an IT firm to turn millions of messages into hard data.

By David Vranicar
Aug 13, 2012 8:22 AM PT

South Korea is engaging in the sort of Internet censorship usually associated with China, according to The New York Times.

The Times ticks off a handful of examples of Great Firewall-esque meddling: Someone who called the president a bad word via Twitter had his account blocked; a judge who claimed that the president was out to screw over people who challenged his authority on the Web was fired; even pornography is iffy.

South Korea is a democratic nation and is among the world's most wired countries. As the Times points out, South Korea has some of the world's fastest downloads speeds, while Seoul's subway system has WiFi access for smartphones.

All that same, both the United Nations, which lectured South Korean officials last year on the benefits of public scrutiny, and Reporters Without Borders, which lumped South Korea with nations such as Russia and Egypt in a report called "Enemies of the Internet," have been critical of the nation's policing of the Internet.

The iPad Push

PaidContent.org took at look at The Guardian's efforts to get people to pay for content on their iPads.

About 800,000 people having downloaded The Guardian's iPad app, which offers free content for two weeks before a paywall goes into effect. Those 800,000 downloads have yielded just 17,000 paying iPad subscribers, according to Paid Content. That means about 2.1 percent of the people to download it end up becoming subscribers.

For The Guardian, that means about pounds 1.4 million ($2.1 million) per year.

The Guardian also has an iPhone app for pounds 4.99 per year. The "conversion rate" on getting people to pay for the iPhone app is a relatively hefty 17 percent. However, the iPhone app gives readers a handful of free stories forever -- not just a two-week grace period.

The Guardian is prominently featured on the iTunes Newsstand thanks to a marketing deal with Apple.

Indian TV Show Taps Into Data

One of India's most popular television shows, "Satyamev Jayate," is going out of its way to make sense of the loads of data it receives from viewers, according to GigaOM.

In the show's brief 13-episode lifespan, it has built a reputation for addressing social issues, such as the caste system, female feticide and medical practices. These issues have helped the show generate huge interest around the world: The show has 400 million viewers on Indian TV and on YouTube, according to GigaOM, and more than 8 million people have generated more than 14 million responses to the show on a variety of platforms -- Facebook, text messages and Web comments among them.

To track all the comments -- or at least the general ideas contained therein -- the show teamed up with an Indian IT firm. When all these responses start coming in, a system designed by the IT firm automatically tags and "scores" them. The scoring system is specially designed to understand messages written in "Hinglish," or a combination of Hindi and English.

One noteworthy data set came after the first episode, which showed that 99.8 percent of respondents said they agreed with the show's stance that doctors accused of female feticide should be subject to quicker prosecution. This response reportedly prompted a real-life change in how the crime would be prosecuted.

Tech Trek is a blog that looks at tech news from around the world. David Vranicar is a freelance journalist currently living in the Netherlands. His ECT News Network archive, with links to articles and podcasts, is available here. You can email him at david.vranicar@newsroom.ectnews.com.

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