User:Bohye Woo/4th Thesis outline

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Free labour in the context of data colonialism


What has been inherited in Korean working culture from Japanese colonialism, and how has this been transformed to a digital space? Through unpacking the inherited digital colonialism, free labour is produced — how can we make it palpable?


Background + Thesis statement

According to The Korea Herald, S. Koreans are known to be among the World's worst workaholics, ranking second in the OECD in terms of working hours in 2014. Many people work over-hours in the evening or even till early in the morning without getting properly considered to be paid. This is happening because of S. Korea's age hierarchy, work productivity, and forceful culture that is inherited from the early 20th century where S. Korea was colonized by Japan.(The Korean Herald, 2015)

As a Millennial, who was born and raised with digital technology in S. Korea, I see the culture of working hard is happening in the digital platform too. Since my parents bought a big bulky computer with a Window 98 installed, I started having a basic but hardcore computer course where I learned how to type keyboard and search on the web at school. As time goes by, the Internet has become an easiest platform to join, search, play and became a place of comfort. Eventually, Internet experiences such as scrolling down the Internet, joining a community by creating an account, uploading photos on online community, cilcking 'accept' button on privacy policy settings, facing with Internet advertisements come as naturally to me as breathing.

However it seems that as the possibilities of technology increase, so does our digital workability on it. The Internet become our 24/7 workplace, and we became a digital worker from what we carried out because the above-mentioned activities with the help of human labour creates new products that generate different range of values. It become sellable sources in which we voluntarily worked by providing data in the form of labour. Eventually, those activities are considered to be a work that is invisible, appropriated, copied, uncared, influenced, piggybacked, borrowed, leaked, silenced, reproduced and exploited.

What is considered to be a free work? Did we agree on this work? Where has our contract been made? Are we a digital volunteer, a worker, a proletariat or a slave? As a Millennial generation, how should we look at free digital labour in the specific context of colonial era in S. Korea? What has been inherited in Korean working culture from Japanese colonialism, and how has this been transformed to a digital space? Through unpacking, inherited digital colonialism arises and digital free labour is produced — how can we create a sense of urgency?

  • I also want to mention a general labour exploitation in digital and saying I'm focusing on only hidden labour in data colonialism on this thesis.


Chapter 1: How did free labour arise in its cultural context?

Point A: South Korean labour — Korean work ethics is all about age hierarchy, work productivity, and forceful culture

  • Koreans work a lot: According to The Korea Herald, S. Koreans are known to be among the World's worst workaholics, ranking second in the OECD in terms of working hours in 2014. (The Korean Herald, 2015) Male workers in manufacturing industry are allowed 24.10 overtime work hours while non-manufacturing workers get 10.90 hours. Public sector can work 11.06 hours overtime, while private sector workers are allowed 16.06 hours. (Bae, 2014)
  • 1st reference for working overtime in S. Korea: A Korean concept of human affection, in Korean '정(jeong)' in Korea where people share product/work for free.
  • Age hierarchy: In general, Korean society is based on age hierarchy that older people get more respect, money and pretty much get their way. The same is true when it comes to the work environment. Age matters more than skill (however this is slowly changing). If you are younger, you are considered the lowest in the pecking order. Everyone follows the oldest person, who is usually the top dog. Hence it hinders productivity.(Hogan, 2017)
  • Forceful working culture: South Korea’s work culture is notorious for its rigid hierarchy, forceful, demand for obedience and loyalty, and work hours which sometimes lead employees to gwarosa — death by overworking.(Park, 2017)
  • Work productivity': Respecting a strict hierarchy is seen as a way to complete tasks more quickly, but critics say it leads to inefficiency at work by hindering younger employees from directly contributing to the achievements of a business.(Shin, 2018) (a) A Korean concept of '노동요(work song)': a piece of music/song work sing while conducting a task to make work effective. (b) Free labour as a model of volunteerism — A Korean concept of free labour called '품앗이(Pumasi)', a traditional form of communal labor in Korean agricultural society.

Point B: Over-working hour culture came from the Japanese colonial times as well as military regime period.
To understand why there is S. Korean free labours culture, we need to go back to the history of S. Korea in the early 20th century.

  • Relation to the Japanese colonial times: A culture of hierarchy and high pressure to work long hours is coming from the uniquely hierarchy-driven work culture that was influenced by the Japanese work values during the colonial period in the early 20th century. (a)There is a concept of 'Myeol-Sa-Bong-Gong(멸사봉공)' as a vestige of Japanese imperialism which means "destroy your personal life and devote yourself for the betterment of your community". The concept encouraged people to safrifice their personal life for the companies they worked for, and such a life was viewed as ideal and even honorable. Today's work culture in S. Korea certainly has traits that were influenced by this concept. (The Korean Herald, 2015) (There are more references such as forceful labour during the colonial era, how their labour was being used, how much they actually worked per day.) (b) During the occupation, Japan took over Korea’s labor and land. Nearly 100,000 Japanese families settled in Korea with land they had been given; they chopped down trees by the millions and planted non-native species, transforming a familiar landscape into something many Koreans didn’t recognize.
  • Relation to the military regime period: It also came from the military-driven culture that dominated S. Korea under the authoritarian governments of the 60s and 70s. (The Korean Herald, 2015) Since the establishment of the South Korean state in 1948, twelve people have served nineteen terms as president of South Korea. Especially the second president of S. Korea named Park Chung-hee, who followed dictatorship for 16 years (1963 ~ 1979). He was a Japanese collaborator and one-time communist who cynically engineered a path to the top. He was a sinister general who seized power via coup. He suppressed democratic institutions, wielded security services to suppress human rights and altered the constitution to maintain power. (There will be more references such as, how he performed his dictatorship when it comes to using labours.)

Chapter 1 Conclusion:
Korean working culture is a toxic legacy of colonialism and militarism from the early 20th century which brought the concept of free labour. This is a remnant of Japanese colonialism and military dictatorship that permeated in our skin, and it persisted for a long time.

Chapter 2: The extend of the history, what has Korean colonialism been inherited into digital? (Coloniality of data extraction)

In chapter 1, I explained what is over-hour working(free labour) culture in S. Korea, where does it originate from by refering Japanese colonial times and Korean military regime in the early 20th century. In this chapter, I will analyze how the specific S. Korean working culture has translated into free digital labour culture by comparing and diverging into some examples. Through the analysis, I will conduct how the dispossession inherent in data relations is resonated through a meticulous analysis on how extraction happened in Korean historical colonialism.

Analysis A: Divergence — how Korean colonialism is differ from digital colonialism

  • Tangibility of labour: The aforementioned concept of free labour in S. Korean culture is a traditional form of labour. This traditional sense of working would be clearly tangible and visible as you may noticed from the chapter 1. If you are working in a shoe factory, the factory is a physical place. You can see the factory, workers, machines, and products. And, there is also agreements on who owns the production which would be a company. In this way, the labour is distinctly explicit on who owns what's produced. However, in digital form of labour, any interaction you have on the Internet tend to be very implicit and invisible. There are no consents on who own the means of production although it can be easily quantified which becomes a data. The data is intangible, and it doesn't belong to you even though it is what you produced. The involvement of this production is very complex, From a digital worker who produces data, to the means of production, to a third party who owns the production without consent, to an advertisment agency who paid for the product to the third party. Therefore eco-system of the Internet is somehow contradictory. The way how labour is being used, a product, and a work itself has different ways and means between traditional and digital sense. How colonialism shapes the way the colonized think of themselves: ruling subjects, claims to power, inlcuding time and space. (Couldry's chapter 3)
  • 'Geographically bounded' to 'technopolitically bounded': The social structure keeps changing, but idea of colonialism that is being inherited is showing to the digital world in a different form and structure. It's happening not only in Korean online culture, but everywhere in a slightly different form. If historical colonialism expanded by appropriating for exploitation geographical territory and the resources that territorial conquest could bring, data colonialism expands by appropriating for exploitation ever more layers of human life itself.(Couldry, 2019) In the past, colonialism was geographically bounded, like the specific case of the Korean colonial times. However, Digital Colonialism is beyond the geograchical bound. Now it is human bounded, in a bigger scale, it's technopolitically bounded.

Analysis B: Comparison — how the legacy of Korean historical colonialism embodies in the present
(1) Appropriation of human life
Korean historical colonialism appropriated territories and bodies through extreme physical violence = Digital coloniallism appropriated the web(social medias) and human through our information, data, labour, time and life. Raw material = our data.

  • In the history
  1. Colonisation happened little by little: Before the official Japanese forced occupation, there had been small and big colonial governances happened slowly.
  2. Japan's coercive threat: The Japanese–Korea Treaty of Amity(강화도조약), in 1876, where Korea opened up to Japanese trade, was a inequality treaty made by Japan's coercive threat. However, the treaty ended Korea's status as forced open three Korean ports to Japanese trade, granted extraterritorial rights to Japanese citizens, and was an unequal treaty signed under duress (gunboat diplomacy) of the Ganghwa Island incident(운요호사건) of 1875. As a result of the treaty, Japanese merchants came to Busan, which became the center for foreign trade and commerce. (
  3. Extraterritoriality(치외법권): The treaty gave extraterritorial rights to Japanese citizens in Korea, and forced the Korean government to open 3 ports to Japan. With the signing of its first unequal treaty, Korea became vulnerable to the influence of imperialistic powers.
  • In the digital space
  1. Pervasiveness: We are subject to be oblivious. We're highly interconnected with the Internet, when you wake up till sleep you're on phone, swipting, clicking, watching or in another digital devices. (Statistic data of Korean using phones, even in Subway + bus...)(Koreans working a lot and not paid as it's a natural things to them.) You are more and more dependend on it, and it's unavoidable. it's pervasive in our daily lives. According to the survey, internet users (find with Korean users) are now spending an average of 2 hours and 22 minutes per day on social networking and messaging platforms. This is only using social medias. The rest of time, we search, scroll, click, watch, upload... (Digitized information as an easily created knowledge/capital - accepting cookie settings.) While using social media Much of today's data appropriations are not seen in daily life as appropiriation at all but as part of everyday business practice. (Couldry, 2019. 18p)
  2. Immaterial labour: It is showned that the formation of work has been changed within postindustrial society.(Terranova, 2013) In the digital society, we work by producing resources, in this case, data. This data is generated in a diverse way from human digital activities such as uploading your files, photos, videos through social media or writing some articles about a specific topics on the Internet and so on. Those activities create "cultural contents" such as posts, clicks, likes, follows and so on. And they are intangible and hard to materialize that it tend to be considered as an undetermined labour. The term immaterial is pervasive in materiality. For example, those immaterial labours are based on materials such as computer, keyboard and mouse and so on. They need material bases to exist, however, those cultural contents produced from the materials, are immaterial. Because of its undeterminedness, the production of cultural content as commodity, these cultural contents are not recognized as "work". (photo of a standard work)
  3. Indentured labour: Internet as a 24/7 working office. It can be seen as bonded labour/Indentured labour/contracted labour because you give up your personal information. You're on the contract of being extracted your products by working for those big companies. Examples like: we agreed on 'working' for social media by clicking 'agree' terms on check box before making a new account.

(2) Economical domination — Korean colonialism and its role within capitalism
Economic and social organization dominated by major colonial powers in Korean colonialism. In the web, people who provide the platform owns major colonial powers. Further, major colonial powers belong to social medias who owns our datas in social platforms. Examples: Naver's profit, and how much we, as a worker, get the profit on our own creations?

  1. Free labour is conflated within technology capitalizing on this grey area: Historical colonialism and data colonialism share some fundamental structures that ground the resource appropriations and social relations. (Couldry chapter 3, 2019) In the past, enabiling human life to become an input or resource for capitalism. In the neocolonial scheme from the view of sociality, the colony is not a geographic location but an "enhanced reality" in which we conduct our social interactions under conditions of continuous data extraction. (Couldry, 2019. 85p) Capitalism continuously seeks to intergrate as many dimensions of life as possible into the production process, but what is concerning at the moment is the speed at which areas of sociality previously cordoned off from capitalism are being commodified. (Couldry, 2019. 87p) Example: Social media company using our social interactions to earn profits, dating apps to gather datas, inviting friends to the same platform to gain more workers. Eventually, we become a product and commodity. (Example: We don't pay for using social media. However the information that's gathered from using it,become to sell to advertisement.) Under capitalism, social interactions became progressively commodified, with everyday social interactions incresingly embedded in economic relations. (Lefebvre, Everyday Life; and Zaretsky, Personal Life. Couldry, 2019. 86p)
  2. E-conomic, e-motoinal, e-ntertainment capitals: In the past, Japan used Korean labour to forcefully push them to work, creating resources, railway business. In the digital platform, big companies earn monetary value by stealing data(monetize that data (usually through advertising. Google’s real customers are advertisers – who have no choice but to spend their money with Google if they want to place ads alongside the vast majority of searches conducted online. (Fair Search, 2011)) — Data exploitation on the Internet as a colonial perspective: allegedly infringed labour — whose traces had suddenly become visible.(The costs of connection p.3) E-motional, and e-nternainment capitals are a new form of value that's implicitly produced from digital free labour. Digital platform become an unintended/unexpected workplace, and this social currency is a new social form of assets. It is created by gaining likes, commenting, sharing posts in social media, or by uploading personal stories and photos, Google maps review and restaurant reviews in the Website. This form of capital is considered to be produced while playing as well. When using social media, you don't consider as work, rather enjoying and fun leisure activity. (playbour creates a data commodity. example would be: YouTubers, mukbang & pro gamers as examples of the promise of lucrative entertainment capital)

(3) Hierarchy
There was a cultural hierarchy that made working a lot in the past. Now 'digital hierarchy' is inherited from the Korean colonial times. The digital hierarchy deceives us to, for examples, infinite scrolling, agreeing terms. (persuasive design - Web interface choice)

  • In the history
  1. Comfort Women: Comfort women were women and girls forced into being sex slaves by the Imperial Japanese Army in occupied territories before and during World War II.
  • In the digital space
  1. Not by Gender but by Web-citizen: Free labour culture is happening not by Country, but by web. Through web, big companies are taking advantage of our netizenship by infringing our online right. There is no discrimination by gender but by web hierarchy.
  2. Indirectly deceived advertisement: When Apple introduces a new product, they say 'personal experience'. Because it's a personal experience, it's easy to be exploited your personal informations. (not sure yet) Here put Korean references: Korean website's interface.
  3. Affordance of interface: Infinite scrolling, Agreeing terms and conditions + Cookies Yes and No button to get the information we wanted to get.

(4) Digital military governance
During the dictatorship from the president Park, he manipulated medias and people. Now with 'Attention economy': apps are designed with the explicit purpose of making users stay on them.

  1. A forceful automatic function: Tremendous amount of people are using YouTube in Korea, brodcasting their own channel, watching, and commenting on videos. Once you get in the website, overwhelming amount of videos are suggested, sometimes with an auto-play function, automatically playing the next suggested video... This way we're in a way forcefully watching videos while our data has been being produced.(Netslaves, Digital sweatshop)
  2. One big company's dictatorial governance: There is a S. Korean online platform called 'Naver' operated by a big company Naver Corporation. It's a centralized online platform, where blogging, posting, selling, reading, searching, broadcasting is possible. In this platform, more than 85% of S. Korean enrolled as a user, starting page on their default browser(Social aspect). Naver is also frequently referred to as 'the Google of South Korea' (Kim, 2013) Names of companies are different, but they're all affliated company.

Chapter 3: How can we make it palpable - how can we create a sense of urgency?

In the chapter 2, I delved into analysis on how specific Korean working cultue has translated into free labour in digital platform. Through the last chapter, we realized that the web has a Korean colonialistic exploitation.

Then, do we want to quit using this service? Quitting these platforms that forcefully allow you to work is not an optimal solution."With no firewalls, no tolls, no government regulation, no spying. Information would be totally free in every sense of the word." In theory it's ideal, however, it's difficult where a small number of enormous companies control or at least mediate much of the Internet in practice. (Richard Hendricks, 2019) The platform itself is not a problem, the problem is the business model and its exploitation of psychological traits that was being used.

Like Naver(A Korean Google), Melon(The biggiest Korean music streaming site, like Spotify), they control the market for internet access to have the technical capability to control us, let us working. It’s no secret anymore that internet giants like Google collect your data when you visit their sites, everyone is indifferent on hard working and being a netslaves. We're aware of this, but still in this platform 24/7. Nobody is forcing us to work, but we're still voluntarily producing our own products.

Therefore how can we, as a self-aware digital worker, behave or involve on our own autonomy, labour, work we do, product we produce? Can we create a sense of urgency that everyone can be palpably aware of our free labour? To create a sense of urgency, what can we do within the system? This chapter will sketch out examples and suggestions on what we can do.

Suggestion A: Searching out where the contract has been made
When making a new account on social media, creating email accounts, signing up Youtube, we have to agree terms and conditions. There are no ways to disagree terms if you want to join the community or use the system. Here is where our working contract has been made, our forceful free labour is started to produce. Therefore, we should realize where our free labour starts from. It is crucial to look into the privacy settings and agreements to realize where the contract is signed.

  • Without knowing the contents, we click to agree with the policy: When did we consent to the free labour? When did we make a contract on our job and working hours? Creating an ID in Naver, we need to agree with all the terms of services and privacy policy. Without clicking an agreement, we can't use the services. Anytime we're on a site using one its hidden services, those companies give itself permission to collect our data. Even if we've never agreed to their terms and conditions, their polities allow it to collect and store our data. It’s virtually impossible to avoid using company's services if we want to use the web—something the company deliberately obscures to hire people to join the forcefully produced labour farm. Therefore, the agreements are made in a very sneaky way. Therefore we shouldn't deny the fact that we're bilnd on the way your contract is signed.
  • The obfuscation of language (The polite language is used in the policy): Terms and conditions are very long, not written in a legible way. They're in a very in the corner of the website where used to be marked with a grey color. Even if you get to read the terms and conditions, it's with more than 10,000 words with a polite language. It doesn't seem to be important as a worker(user) to know. Emotional labor:

Suggestion B: Self-tracking our own footages
Self-surveillance: It gives more urgency when it's physically related.

  • Google Surveillance Detector
  • Switch Search Engines: how to quit Google?
  • Ghostery – Privacy Ad Blocker, offered by: to block ads, stop trackers.
  • privacy-protecting feature: theTracking Blocker by The Tracking Blocker is a built-in extension which prevents invisible trackers from monitoring your online activity.

Suggestion C: Translating labour into monetary value
Because In the colonial past they used our labour to get profits which was directly connected to a monetary value. Capitalistic colonialism era, Japan created a modern army and navy and viewed Korea and Manchuria as areas for industrial and agricultural expansion. Japanese expanded their industrial and agricultural business to Korea to get a financial wealth.

Suggestion D: Quantifying the labour
The most palpable way to create urgency: It's more tangible and materialized form in which can be embodied. it feels more urgent. These days, most of our money now consists of mere numbers in bank computers, shifting arrays of electrons. Money exists, in other words, apart from tangible objects such as salt and rice, tobacco leaves, rice and shells. (Kuriyama, 2013?) Quantifying labour will bring us to think of data dignity. If you understand how much it's extracted? How much is my data worth? what is the cost? quantify things: monetary value that we embodied. Some related examples: In capitalistic consumerism society, Money was blood. Money became a circulagory problem inside the body. There were a lot of prosperity. Money became a visible disease. Don't just make visible, but rather give it a weight.*

  • There are many internet browser extension on quantifying your data and your free labour. Joana Moll's project on Amazon.
  • Time tracker for facebook by Tim Coy: This extension tracks how much time you have wasted on facebook.
  • Visualising your facebook data


Korean working culture is a toxic legacy of colonialism and militarism from the early 20th century related to age hierarchy, forceful working culture, and work productivity which brought the concept of free labour. This has been re-inherited into a digital space in the context of data colonialism that users are forcefully working for free in the web. Through making free labour palpable by forensicating where the contract has been made, self-tracking our footages, translating labours into monetary value, and quantifying it, we can create a sense of urgency.