By Cho Mu-hyun
The Fair Trade Commission (FTC), the nation's antitrust regulator, is investigating NHN, the operator of dominant portal Naver, for possible unfair business practices, industry officials revealed Tuesday.
The regulator launched the investigations officially on Monday and went to the Internet giant's headquarters in Bundang, Gyeonggi Province, and held on-site inspections and collected documents, according to a FTC spokesman. He declined to give further details, only saying the probe was ongoing.
"We will cooperate fully with the FTC," said NHN spokeswoman Lee Won-mi, but refused to give possible reasons behind the investigations.
NHN owns Naver, which holds a dominant market share of over 70 percent in the local portal market ahead of rivals Daum and Nate.
Industry officials believe that the FTC will look into whether the company uses its position unfairly against lesser partners.
It is speculated that the regulator collected evidence prior to the investigations to prove that NHN was a dominant player in the market with significant power gained by throwing its weight around.
The company has tremendous power over advertisers and software developers among others in the market due to its popularity on desktops, which is increasing in the expanding mobile platform thanks to its messenger service LINE.
There were numerous rumors last year that the FTC was looking into the company but this is the first time the regulator has made a public admission.
NHN have been trying to compensate for its image as a monopoly-holder in the market by offering higher ratio returns to developers over earnings and holding forums for them. It also strongly supports helping small and mid-sized enterprises.
It was also heavily criticized last year for extending its power into other markets besides its core Internet business, by venturing out into areas such as real estate and wholesales market that many say kills smaller firms.
In 2008, the FTC imposed a fine of $227 million won against NHN for the same antitrust allegations, the largest ever for a portal company. The Seoul High Court took the side of the Internet giant, and the trial is ongoing in the Supreme Court of Korea.
NHN also previously filed a separate complaint to the FTC against its American rival Google, saying the latter abused its power over the Android platform widely used in mobile devices by having its website preloaded.
공정거래위원회가 1등 포털업체 네이버를 운영하는 NHN의 공정거래 실태 파악을 위한 조사에 착수했다.
14일 포털업계와 공정위에 따르면 공정위 시장감시국 서비스감시과는 13일 NHN의 경기도 성남시 분당 사옥을 현장조사에 들어갔다.
시장감시국은 독과점 기업의 시장지배적 지위 남용 등 불공정 거래행위를 조사하는 부서다.
업계에서는 공정위가 단발성 조사가 아닌 대형포털 업체의 시장지배적 지위 남용이나 불공정 거래 행위와 관련한 전반적인 조사에 착수한 것이 아니냐는 관측이 나오고 있다.
이 때문에 이번 공정위의 조사는 기간이 길어질 수도 있을 것으로 보인다.
공정위는 현장조사를 앞두고 네이버의 시장지배적 사업자임을 입증하기 위한 기초조사를 해온 것으로 알려졌다.
한편 공정위는 2008년에도 NHN을 인터넷포털 서비스 이용자 시장에서의 시장지배적 사업자로 규정해 시정명령을 내리고, 자회사 부당지원 행위에 대해서는 시정명령과 함께 2억2천700만원의 과징금을 부과한 바 있다.
그러나 서울고등법원은 2009년 공정위가 NHN을 국내 시장지배적 사업자로 규정하고 시정명령을 내린 조치가 부당하다고 NHN에 손을 들어준 바 있다. 대법원 재판은 현재 진행 중이다.