Online privacy and culture: A comparative study between Japan and Korea

Yohko Orito, Eunjin Kim, Yasunori Fukuta and Kiyoshi Murata


Since its early stage, B to C e-commerce has been accompanied by the concerns of a wide range of individual users over misuse of their personal information and an invasion of the right to information privacy. Despite the tremendous advancement and widespread availability of security technology to protect the right such as public-key cryptography and the enactment and/or revision of relevant legislation for personal information protection, the concern has still remained to exist in the mind of a broad range of people.

As a way of addressing the concern, a large majority of B to C e-commerce sites post their privacy policies online. It is alleged that online privacy policies function as tools to engender consumers’ trust in online businesses [Doherty, 2001; ECOM, 2008]. It may intuitively be plausible that cultivating customers’ trust in B to C e-commerce companies through publicising privacy policies on their websites is critical for them because of their indispensable collection, storage and use of personal data and of extremely limited opportunities of face-to-face interaction with customers. Simultaneously, if online privacy policies provide individual users with enough information to correctly evaluate trustworthiness of B to C e-commerce sites, individuals can enjoy online shopping without any concern about the violation of their privacy.

However, awareness of the importance of protecting personal information and the right to privacy is inevitably affected by socio-cultural circumstances surrounding B to C e-commerce and any Net-based business necessarily has a global nature. Analysis of the effectiveness of online privacy policies while taking into account local socio-cultural factors and cross-cultural studies on it are thus significant for protection of the right to information privacy and construction of trustworthy B to C e-commerce environment.

In order to undertake this research subject, Orito et al. [2008] conducted a questionnaire survey in April 2008. The 416 valid responses to the survey provided material for a preliminary study of the awareness about online privacy of young Japanese people as customers of B to C e-commerce sites. However, the survey results contained seemingly contradictive responses. For example, more than half of the respondents who acknowledged the importance of online privacy policies when purchasing something online did not actually read the policies very frequently and were not sure if B to C e-commerce companies complied with their own online privacy policies. Even though more than 70% of the respondents answered that they did not know what the right to privacy was, almost all the respondents believed that protection of the right to privacy was “very important” or “important”.

The analysis of these interesting results based on Japanese socio-cultural characteristics reminded the authors of the necessity and importance of taking a step towards cross-cultural studies. In summer 2009, a research project of a comparative study on online privacy between Japan and Republic of Korea was launched. Korea is geographically closed to Japan and has long, complex cultural and historical relationships with the country. The both nations are located in Sinosphere and share the tradition of Confucianism, but Confucian values, culture and customs remain in Korean lifestyles far more strongly than in Japanese ones as shown in Korean people’s respectful attitude towards their elders and the restriction on marriage and adoption based on the rule of Bon-gwan (??; ??). On the other hand, the percentage of Christians including both Catholics and Protestants in the population is nearly 30% (nearly 70% of those who declare their religious affiliation) in Korea, while less than 1% in Japan where most people consider they don’t have any specific religious belief.

After the World War II, Japan achieved a miraculous economic recovery driven chiefly by heavy and chemical industries. While suffering from the after-effects of the collapse of the bubble economy occurred in 1989, the Japanese government adopted a series of “e-Japan” strategies from 2001 designed to prepare the nation for the rapid and drastic changes in socio-economic structure caused by the development and spread of IT and to create an advanced information and telecommunication network society, which resulted in a highly sophisticated broadband network infrastructure throughout the country. Korea, on the other hand, experienced swift economic growth in the 1960s and 70s referred to as the “Miracle on the Han River” during which the two Korean giants, Samsung and Hyundai, laid their foundations. Getting over the “IMF Crisis” in 1997, the Korean government put forth policies to forge an IT nation and promoted the diffusion of the Internet. Consequently, the penetration rate of the Internet has reached nearly 80% in Korea. Although the both countries are now the world’s leading IT nations, the ways of regulating individual users’ online behaviour show a striking contrast between the two nations. For example, in Korea, Net users are legally obligated to use their real names when they post comments on portal sites or media sites to which an average of more than or equal to a hundred thousand users access a day [Chiyohara, 2010]. There is not such regulation in Japan.

Considering the similarities and differences in socio-cultural settings between the two countries, the cross-cultural study promises to provide fruitful findings to the research project. A survey using the questionnaire Orito et al. (2008) developed was conducted at Kyonggi University in Suwon, Korea in May 2010 and collected 205 valid responses.

There were significant differences in responses to the 10 questions out of the 21 questions in the questionnaire between the two samples. For example, the Korean respondents understand the concept of the right to privacy more than the Japanese ones, whereas the Japanese awareness that privacy policies are posted on B to C e-commerce sites was higher than the Korean one. There was no significant difference in recognition of the importance of protecting the right to privacy between the two nations. The survey results are analysed based on socio-cultural characteristics of Japan and Korea to provide useful findings for the advancement of the research, geographical scope of which will be expanded to other regions including European and Islamic countries in the future.


Chiyohara, R. (2010), Cyber-violence and cyber-contempt, Journal of Information and Management, Vol. 30, No. 3, pp. 88-98 (in Japanese).

Doherty, S. (2001), Keeping data private. Available online at (accessed on 15th July 2009).

Next Generation Electronic Commerce Promotion Council of Japan (ECOM) (2008), Survey on Privacy Policy and Other Similar Statements on Websites (in Japanese). Available online at (accessed on 20th June 2009).

Orito, Y., K. Murata, Y. Fukuta, S. McRobb and A. A. Adams (2008), Online privacy and culture: Evidence from Japan, Proceedings of ETHICOMP 2008, pp. 615-622.

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