Have you ever wanted an online homepage that you could design and decorate and could also use as a social networking site? Cyworld fulfills those needs by allowing users to very simply design and decorate a personal webpage. While building a webpage may require coding in addition to the purchase of a web hosting service and a domain name. Cyworld makes everything easier by facilitating the creation of personal homepages.
Cyworld opened in 1999 and is operated by SK Communication in South Korea. In Korean, “Cy” (pronounced ‘Sa-e’) means relationship. Hence, in English, Cyworld translates to “relationship world,” or in other words, social networking world. This service is very similar to well-known networking sites in the US, such as Facebook and MySpace, but Cyworld has many more features. Cyworld uses a personal recognition program which identifies Korean citizens with their resident registration numbers obtained at birth (a Korean version of the U.S. social security number). The recognition feature makes it so a user cannot misrepresent their identity and/or create duplicate accounts. The user base of Cyworld is mostly segmented to people in their late teens and twenties. Currently, Cyworld is heavily targeting the pre and early teen population, since they will be the future customers. The latest report said that 90% of South Koreans in their twenties use Cyworld. Additionally, as of September 2005, 25% of the total South Korean population is registered users of Cyworld.
Membership on Cyworld is free along with an unlimited number of file uploads. However, homepage personalization is paid for with credits that can be purchased on the site. Cyworld calls these credits “do-to-ri” (or acorn in English). One acorn is worth 100 Won (0.10 USD), with a minimum of ten acorns being purchased at a time. Users can use the acorns to buy music, banners, games, skins, fonts, and other items that they need to decorate their mini-rooms, mini-homepages, or clubs.
Figure 1: Mini Homepage (U.S) with avatars in the mini-room
Cyworld’s main feature is the mini-homepage. This feature includes photo galleries, personal profiles, message boards, guest books, videos, personal bulletin boards, favorites, paper collections, music boxes, and diaries. Cyworld’s mini-homepage includes a service that alerts the user whenever people leave messages on the bulletin board or comments below uploaded pictures or videos. Also, Cyworld has its own instant messaging system, which helps users network with people who are in their “il-chon”, or friends, list.
Due to the popularity of Cyworld, many new words and phases have been coined. One such word is “Cy-Pe-In”, which describes those users who use Cyworld first thing in the morning. Throughout the day, these users check their account every chance they get. “Pe-In” literally means “moral wreck” in Korean. Thus, “Cy-Pe-In” mean people who are dysfunctional without Cyworld. These Cy-Pe-In spend tremendous amounts of time on Cyworld, where they decorate their pages and post pictures and videos to show their Cy-friends. According to the authors’ research and personal experience, these users are unable to sleep unless they spend a certain amount of time daily on Cyworld. Another phrase that is commonly used when describing these people is, “they are Cy-Jung-Dok.” “Jung-Dok” mean people who are addicted to Cyworld as if they were addicted to illicit drugs. These words are an example of how popular Cyworld is in South Korea, and it shows the enormous impacts that it has on the users’ physical and emotional states. Upon considering the present trends and their presentation in Korean language, it is clear that the implied meanings are not postive.
Reasons for Use
People use Cyworld because it is the single largest social networking site in Korea. They also use Cyworld because of its ease of use and many services and features. One heavily used feature is the photo upload. On average, 6.2 million photos are uploaded to Cyworld each day, many coming directly from cell phones. Another feature that is becoming very popular is uploading videos. Like photos, videos are taken with a cell phone and can then be immediately uploaded to Cyworld. Again, uploading of these pictures and videos is simple and easy. Once the photos and videos are uploaded, friends are able to leave messages and comments on homepages. A third and very popular feature offered is a homepage “famous score.” This score is basically a page hit counter and increases when another person visits the homepage. The higher the score is, the more popular the person. For this reason, more people want to use services that bring visitors to their site. Lastly, the people search is a very powerful service that is simple to use and is also heavily utilized. Searches can be performed for people such as favorite teachers, friends from camp, school friends, etc. Just by having and using Cyworld, people are able to expand and increase their personal connections. Because of this, more and more people want to use Cyworld.
One of the main problems that arise within Cyworld is the simplicity of finding the account holder through name, age or email. The moment the account is established, address, phone number, e-mail address, birthday and information on relationship are exposed to the public. Yet, many people are willing to jeopardize personal information because they are unaware of the risks. This paper will thus examine Cyworld’s privacy policies, the company’s efforts to protect the users, and the privacy issues that the site has caused.
Every user must accept the Personal Information Protection Policy prior to joining Cyworld. The policy outlines the safety and security tenets under which Cyworld operates. Users violating the policy can be punished by law. However, the question of how Cyworld keeps in action to find the criminal and protect the account holders remains. Additionally, it is unclear how many account holders know the rights that they have and can realize when these rights are being violated.
Due to the popularity of Cyworld, several problems have started to surface and have been mentioned by a variety of media sources. The common crimes/incidents that are reported and well known to average Cyworld users are career interference, stalking, stealing, kidnapping, underage use, defamation and even death.
The most commonly known privacy invasion today affects career choices. Without legal permission, any information can be obtained from websites/homepages including the ones that are not in your permanent records such as what you did last weekend or who you have dated in the past. Just on like Facebook.com and MySpace.com, there are many issues with how employers interpret and use the information found on Cyworld.
Another issue is the stalking, stealing, and kidnapping problems that stem from peoples’ addictions and desires to show off their Cyworld homepage to the public. Open information has given an easier way for the stalkers to find victims information. The information given, such as address, phone number, and e-mail addresses, not only may physical stalking evolve, but a victim may experience abusive or excessive phone calls and threatening e-mails. There is no guarantee that the stalker will never show up to the given address. Not only can criminals access the basic information that is updated on the homepage profile, but they can also view users’ diaries that expose daily routines. Knowing where the specific person may be at a certain time gives a thief or kidnapper a better chance for completing what they aimed to do.
Another issue is that children who are underage illegally use their parents’ credit cards or phones on Cyworld to buy advanced services and features to decorate their homepages. Since there is no restriction with children signing up to be the account holder, there is also no restriction on what they can purchase or how they purchase it.
Lastly, users can get revenge on others by defaming them on the site, leaving an individual’s reputation is a risk. This is partly a result of there being no restriction of what kind of information is posted. Personal photos and descriptions can be obtained from other homepages and can be used to disparage targeted users. Some users have even humiliated individuals who have passed away – a action found to be particularly uncouth in South Korean culture.
College students were targeted for the experiment, they were asked series of questions about their knowledge of and attitudes towards online privacy. The respondents were also asked about their knowledge related to online crime.
Figure 2: Users who have experienced privacy invasion with Cyworld
- 90% of users agreed that a company gaining personal information through Cyworld can be a major problem.
- 88% of users were aware of unprotected privacy and its exposure.
- 88% of users said that it is a company’s responsibility to protect account holders.
- 60% of users also said that people are responsible for their own protection
- 60% of users said that they have tried to gain other people’s information using Cyworld.
A high percentage of account holders and users were aware of the unprotected privacy when using Cyworld, but at the same time, they also blamed the company for the problem. Not many users are taking actions to protect themselves. Under the personal information protection policy, exchange of personal information must be trusted between the company and the account holder. It also states that it is both parties responsibility to take action in protecting each other.
Cyworld is only one of the examples of how privacy online is invaded. It also is a good example that shows the similarities between other countries social networking cites and those in the U.S. such as facebook.com and myspace.com. These websites/homepages do create relationships and friends. Considered a relatively harmless social phenomenon by a young generation including college students, Cyworld has the same effects as Facebook.com and MySpace.com when it comes to threatening a members chance of getting a job after graduation. This creates problems for many users when it comes to affecting their entire work career, because a job offer could be based on people’s online information such as profiles and activities. What we can assume right now is that it is not long before these websites and homepages will be used for every decision, not just a job.
Online social networking has become a big part of today’s culture and has opened new issues related to publicizing personal information. Social network services have provided closer human relationships compared to what was available in the past with interacting while offline. It has connected people with all different types of interests and helped them to expand their network uses. But on large social networking services, privacy is the number one concern when it comes to Internet use. While the importance of protecting their own personal information is emphasized, privacy still faces threats from both private and public sector intrusions. What the privacy laws practices have failed to provide have caused the need for protection and confusion have created distrust and doubt of using today’s advanced technology.
Cyworld’s Privacy Usage Interview by Shi-Min-Hang Dong 12/07/2005
http://action.or.kr/home/bbs/board.php?bo_table=inforight_radar&wr_id=32 Jung-Bo-In-Guen-Un-Dong- Cyber Culture Research
Cyworld’s Privacy Usage Interview by Shi-Min-Hang Dong 06/07/2005
http://action.or.kr/home/bbs/board.php?bo_table=inforight_news&wr_id=653&page=5 Jung-Bo-In-Guen-Un-Dong- Cyber Culture Research
Cyworld; Massive Korean Social Network CyWorld Launches in US 27/07/2006 By Marshall Kirkpatrick,
Cyworld vs. MySpace : Korean’s most popular online social network enters the American market. By Jason Hahn
2006-07-28 http://english.ohmynews.com/articleview/article_view.asp?menu=c10400&no=308057&rel_no=1 OhmyNews International Science and Technology
Tech Talk; Cyworld Monday November 20 to 24, 2006 by Rajesh Jain
http://www.emergic.org/collections/tech_talk_cyworld.html Emergic.org Rajesh Jain’s Weblog on Emerging Technologies, Enterprises and Markets
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