Unstoppable data war in the information age (Op-Ed by SeungJung Kim)

Recently, controversy over Japan’s pressure on Naver to sell its stake in Line Yahoo has heated up. Line, a major messenger platform in Japan, was developed by Naver, Korea’s internet giant. Line Yahoo is a company created through a merger with Yahoo, which was owned by Softbank.

Citing the leaks of personal data from Line last year, the Japanese government is demanding Naver sell its stake in Line to protect its “national security.” But Korean people are angry about Japan attempting to snatch “a native product” from a Korean company.

The possibility of Korea’s only global platform being handed over to Japan helps revive the trauma of collective memory of the Japanese occupation in the 20th century. Korean people’s growing criticism for their government’s failure to preemptively respond to the issue makes it a complicated crisis of history, economy and politics all intertwined.

Interestingly, a similar case is currently in progress between the United States and China over TikTok, a video sharing platform. Recently, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to ban TikTok in the United States with overwhelming approval. The bill states that TikTok, with 170 million American users, will be completely banned in the United States unless China’s ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, sells its service in the country to a non-Chinese company within six months. The bill is also based on the justification to protect the personal information and user data of American citizens from the “enemy state” of China for national security purposes.

In the digital age, complicated political problems are moving onto the virtual space of digital reality. It is no exaggeration to say that our future, where AI is the champion, will be dominated by a competition of data. From a historical perspective, the formation of modern states was closely related to recording and analyzing statistical data. The etymology of “statistics” has the same Latin root — “status” — as the state. It seems that the key to winning the data war in the information age outright lies in addressing this crisis on one’s own.

Kim Seung-Jung is a professor of archaeology at the University of Toronto.

This piece was originally published by Korea JoongAng Daily on May 20, 2024; reprinted with permission from the author.