In 2021, South Korea’s parliament turned its focus to reining in Big Tech. A new law forced Google and Apple to allow third-party payments, curtailing their power to take a cut of all app store transactions. Korean giants Kakao and Naver are facing increased regulation over their financial services. Key to the movement to fix platform competition is Joh Sung-wook, chair of the Korea Fair Trade Commission since 2019.
Joh has shunned the spotlight, but she’s a symbol of the antitrust battle that the South Korean government has been mounting with increasing intensity. She comes with a pioneering pedigree: the first woman to study doctorate-level economics at Harvard University, the first female faculty member at the business schools of Korea University and Seoul National University, and the first woman to chair the Korea Fair Trade Commission since the antitrust agency’s founding in the 1980s.
Joh has promised to regulate with a light touch, but the task is formidable. Eyes are on at least one key bill the Fair Trade Commission is attempting to move through parliament: an “Online Platform Fairness Act,” which would force companies to disclose their algorithms, among other measures.