High-tech bat­tle waged on on­line sex crimes

Mon­i­tors are tasked with track­ing and re­mov­ing in­ter­net re­venge porn amid grow­ing pri­vacy con­cerns

Bangkok Post - - ASIA -

Tony Kim has been paid to watch porn for the last six years, spend­ing his days star­ing at­ten­tively at graphic videos of naked women and sex­ual li­aisons.

He is part of an anti “re­venge porn” force in Seoul tasked with find­ing pri­vate sex­ual im­ages posted on­line with­out per­mis­sion and re­mov­ing them.

The 27-year-old first ap­plied for the role at Santa Cruise out of “cu­rios­ity”, he said.

“But I soon started to feel very un­com­fort­able, hav­ing to watch videos like this all day long, day in and day out.

“Now I’m used to this and feel noth­ing,” he added. “It is just a job now.”

The bleak busi­ness is part of the so­called “dig­i­tal laun­dry” in­dus­try thriv­ing in South Korea — a tech-savvy na­tion but one whose cul­ture re­mains chau­vin­is­tic and where ob­jec­ti­fy­ing women is com­mon.

CEO Kim Ho-jin set up Santa Cruise in 2008, ini­tially spe­cial­is­ing in re­mov­ing ma­li­cious on­line ru­mours or in­ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion for lo­cal firms and celebri­ties.

But in re­cent years a new type of client has emerged — women whose pri­vate sex videos and pho­to­graphs were posted on­line with­out per­mis­sion by dis­grun­tled ex-boyfriends, ex-hus­bands or ma­li­cious ac­quain­tances.

“We mon­i­tor var­i­ous porn, P2P (peerto-peer net­works) and so­cial me­dia sites around the clock, be­cause such ‘leaked videos’ could pop up at any time and over and over for years,” said chief ex­ec­u­tive Mr Kim.

So-called “re­venge porn” is a global phe­nom­e­non — one study showed that two per­cent of Amer­i­cans who use the in­ter­net have had such im­ages posted — prompt­ing so­cial me­dia giants such as Face­book to de­ploy coun­ter­mea­sures.

In South Korea, 7,325 re­quests to have in­ti­mate videos re­moved from the in­ter­net were made last year, ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment fig­ures, a sev­en­fold in­crease in four years.

This in­cludes hid­den cam­era footage posted by peo­ple us­ing sur­veil­lance gad­gets or smart­phones to film women in chang­ing rooms or pub­lic toi­lets.

Seoul re­cently an­nounced a sweep­ing pol­icy pack­age to bat­tle the on­line sex crimes, in­clud­ing a plan to make a prison term the min­i­mum sen­tence for such crimes.

Some posters pho­to­shop por­traits of a fe­male ac­quain­tance onto porno­graphic pic­tures to spread the im­ages on­line.

Santa Cruise boss Mr Kim ex­plained: “Most of­fend­ers are teenage boys or men in their 20s who want to see pretty, pop­u­lar girls out of their reach be­ing abused and hu­mil­i­ated on­line.”

One vic­tim, whose name was with­held, said she quit her job and cut all con­tact with friends and fam­ily af­ter her video emerged on­line.

“I was once a happy per­son who lived a nor­mal life like ev­ery­one else,” she said in text mes­sages shared by the Korea Cy­ber Sex­ual Vi­o­lence Re­sponse Cen­tre.

“Now I’m scared of just go­ing out­side and scared of the whole world.”

A sense of shame runs deep in the con­ser­va­tive, pa­tri­ar­chal na­tion, where women who ap­pear in the videos face so­cial stigma, said Seo Lang, head of the cam­paign group.

Ms Seo said the po­lice cy­ber-crime unit is over­whelmed, with the po­lice of­ten blam­ing the vic­tims — al­most al­ways women — for not hav­ing “be­haved prop­erly”.

She in­sisted: “The price to pay for de­stroy­ing a woman’s life is so light here.”

At present only six per­cent of con­victed up­load­ers are sen­tenced to prison, ac­cord­ing to a study by the Korea Women Lawyers As­so­ci­a­tion, with around 65% be­ing fined.

The anony­mous vic­tim said the man who posted their in­ti­mate video on­line was only fined one million won (29,332 baht), with a web­site that dis­played it or­dered to pay a three million won penalty.

“These web­sites scoff at the fine and never change, be­cause they earn enor­mous prof­its ev­ery month by ad­ver­tis­ing and spread­ing videos of women like me,” she said.

Many videos are also used as on­line ad­verts for pros­ti­tu­tion — il­le­gal in South Korea — said Jang Woo-sung, a se­nior su­per­in­ten­dent in the po­lice’s cy­ber bu­reau.

Around 140 women sign up for Santa Cruise’s ser­vices each month, ac­cord­ing to Mr Kim.

Some have found footage of them­selves — of­ten via a male ac­quain­tance send­ing them a link ask­ing “Is that you?” — while others are sim­ply con­cerned that such im­ages may have been shared.

Once Santa Cruise finds a video, the firm con­tacts the web­site op­er­a­tor — some­times a gam­bling or so­cial me­dia site rather than a pornog­ra­phy shar­ing hub — to have it taken down, warn­ing of vi­o­la­tion of pri­vacy laws.

Many com­ply quickly, but if they do not, or are un­reach­able, Santa Cruise asks Seoul’s in­ter­net reg­u­la­tor to block ac­cess to the con­tent, which can take weeks.

“No mat­ter how many times we take it down, it’s nearly im­pos­si­ble to delete such videos com­pletely from the in­ter­net,” he said.

The ser­vice costs two million won a month — al­most two-thirds of the coun­try’s av­er­age wage — prices that Mr Kim de­fends on cost grounds, say­ing the mon­i­tor­ing ef­fort goes on around the clock.

But he fears the worst if clients run­ning out of funds drop out of con­tact.

“When I’ve called them, some­times their par­ents an­swered the phone, say­ing their daugh­ter is dead.”

Kim Ho-jin, CEO of Santa Cruise ‘dig­i­tal laun­dry’ com­pany, check­ing a com­puter screen for ‘re­venge porn’ at his of­fice in Seoul. The com­pany is tasked with tak­ing down videos posted with­out con­sent.

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