South Korea police bust creators of app used by brothels

Police in South Korea have arrested a group of suspects who built and operated an app used by more than 6,400 brothels across the country. It collected and shared the phone numbers of millions of sex buyers.

Operators of the mobile app on which brothels share the personal information of their customers, including phone numbers, are accused of violating the law on personal information protection and, of course, the law banning prostitution.

The sex trade and its infrastructure in South Korea was banned in 2004. But the law proved difficult to enforce: brothels and red-light districts still operate at night in almost every big city. They’re just a bit more hush-hush about it now.

The brothel owners used the app to track customers and their sexual preferences or get information about their previous visits. It also allegedly helped to identify upcoming police sting operations so that the illegal activities could be concealed in time, according to 1Gan.

Once brothel owners installed the app, their customers' phone numbers and memos about them stored on their mobile phones were automatically downloaded to a database through the app.

Businesses could then acquire the personal data of potential customers and use it for commercial purposes. Private detectives working on behalf of suspicious spouses or partners of the sex buyers were also among the app’s major users.

A man in his 40s, who developed the app along with his 15 accomplices, reportedly earned more than 1.8 billion won ($1.3 million) by collecting a monthly fee of 100,000 won ($76) from its users. They made profits of up to 300 million ($230,000) won each month.

It’s unclear whether the app is still active. But it was also used by voice phishers. One voice phishing gang contacted a number of sex buyers on the app and threatened to reveal their secrets to extort money, the police said.

South Korea has rewritten the laws to punish the pimp and the customer, not just the prostitute. But the industry has adapted, and sex is now often sold through cell phones – as spam messages that urge the cell phone owner to call back right away.

“We are continuing additional investigations into similar apps and private detectives who took advantage of the app,” a police official said.

Sexual exploitation of women was actually facilitated by South Korea’s government after the Korean war when it sent them to work in gijichon, or “camp towns,” built around American military bases.

In 2022, the country’s Supreme Court found the government guilty of “justifying and encouraging” prostitution to help South Korea maintain its military alliance with the United States and earn American dollars.

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