Weaponizing South Korean Contact Tracing

South Korea is relying extensively on contact tracing of COVID-19 positive patients and coupling that with controversial text alerts that reveal a lot of personal information about patients (names are not included, but it looks like more than enough information is included to de-anonymize most patients).

As part of the information the South Korean government includes in text alerts is information on what restaurants and businesses a patient had visited. As can be imagined, this has a major impact on those businesses, and has led to fraudsters attempting to blackmail restaurants,

While restaurants that had been named closed temporarily for fumigation, they say their association with the virus could put them out of business.

Fraudsters are now playing on those fears. A man claiming to be infected with Covid-19 called several restaurants in the Mapo district of Seoul warning that their business would suffer if he told health authorities he had eaten there, and demanded money in return for his silence. Police are investigating the case but have yet to locate the suspect.

Fan Death

Apparently, there is a widespread belief in South Korea that sleeping all night with a fan blowing directly on a person can be fatal. The Wikipedia entry and Snopes.com entry about fan death are fascinating looks at how easily urban legends gain traction even in contemporary, technological societies.

No other culture appears to regard its electric fans with trepidation, yet the belief that these air circulating devices are capable of killing in their sleep even adult men is rampant among Koreans. It doesn’t help that the Korean media continues to report “fan deaths,” citing this form of demise every time an otherwise healthy-appearing individual is found dead in his bed.

As to how seriously the threat of fan death is taken in South Korea, fan users there are cautioned to always leave a window open to counter the otherwise deadly effects. Korea’s largest fan manufacturing concern, Shinil Industrial Co., issues warnings with its products telling customers to keep fans pointed away from people at night. “This product may cause suffocation or hypothermia,” the warning reads. The Korea Consumer Protection Board advises that “Doors should be left open when sleeping with the electric fan or air conditioner turned on. If bodies are exposed to electric fans or air conditioners for too long, it causes bodies to lose water and hypothermia.” Many fans sold in South Korea are equipped with timers so people don’t fall asleep with the units running all night. Fan death fear is so prevalent that some Korean drivers have made it their practice to open car windows a crack before operating their vehicles’ air conditioners.

This, of course, would never gain traction in the United States where we prefer to believe myths like “water boarding is not torture” or “Lindsey Lohan’s latest escapades are news.”

For the record, I regularly sleep with a fan pointed at me in a closed room and have yet to suffer ill effects for it. On the other hand, I think my cat is trying to suffocate me.

South Korean Researchers Clone Dog

South Korean researchers in August reported that they have succeeded in cloning a dog — the first time that species has been successfully cloned.

Veteinarian Woo-Suk Hwang led the team that cloned the Afghan hound. Hwang had previously cloned cows, pigs, and a variety of cows that are resistant to mad cow disease.

Unlike those animals, however, cloning dogs is a bigger challenge since dogs don’t respond ot the hormons used to stimulate ovulation. Cloning dogs required monitoring more than 100 female dogs. In all, 1,095 embryos were transferred to 123 surrogate dogs resulting in just 3 pregnancies. Only two of those were carried to term, and one of those dogs died from aspiration pneumonia at 22 days old.

The puppy that did survive, however, appears to be a completely normal Afghan puppy and is now 3 years old.

Hwang is also an expert at stem cell production, and in 2004 successfully derived stem cells from a cloned human embryo. His research on dog cloning will soon shift to developing a line of embryonic dog stem cells which could potentially be used in understanding and treating human diseases.

Animal rights groups weren’t exactly happy about the announcement. Despite the enormous difficulty in cloning dogs, Humane Society of the United States’ Wayne Pacelle told the Associated Press,

This technology could lead to a brave new world of puppy production if it were hijacked by profiteers seeking to use cloning to supply the pet trade.


South Korean scientists clone dog. Peter Gorner, Chicago Tribune, August 3, 2005.

Snappy response to Snuppy’s birth. Joseph Verrengia, Associated Press, August 5, 2005.

Dog cloned in South Korea. Bryn Nelson, Newsdady, August 2005.

South Korea Moves Toward Formal Regulation of Dog Meat Industry

The South Korean government did not win any friends among animal rights activists when it moved in March to formally regulate — and de facto legalize — the dog meat industry in that country.

The killing of dogs for food currently exists in a quasi-legal status in South Korea. There are several bans on specific methods of killing dogs, but there is no ban per se on killing and selling dogs for meat. The result is that dogs are killed and sold for meat, but the production of dog meat is largely unregulated and ignored.

According to the Korea Times, the South Korean cabinet announced in March that it would draw up a series of regulations intended to regulate the killing of dogs for meat in order to ensure dog meat being sold in the country is processed in a safe manner.

The Korea Times quoted an unnamed official as saying,

To legalize the dog meat trade, the law on livestock slaughtering should be revised to included dogs. But last week’s decision is only intended at thoroughly controlling the hygiene standard of dog meat, which is considered as food in reality.

I take that to mean that the government recognizes that a ban on dog meat simply wouldn’t work and it is better off regulating dog meat rather than cracking down on it and driving it further underground, which might lead to even poor standards for killing and processing of dog meat than currently exist in South Korea.

This did not go over well with the Korea Animal Protection Society which issued a press release saying, in part,

Setting a hygiene standard on dog meat means nothing but legalizing the dog meat industry. We cannot believe ethe government is moving to legalize the dog-eating practice of some Koreans, which is not only harmful to national interests but also disgraceful and reproachable.


Howls of protest from both sides greet proposed South Korean dog meat rules. Stars and Stripes, March 16, 2005.

Korea Pledges US $10 Million to Biotechnology, Including Xenotransplantation

The government of South Korea announced in January that it would allocate 10 billion won — about US $10 million — to biotechnology research with a large portion of those funds dedicated to researching the production of animal organs for transplantation into humans.

South Korea is hoping to hit it big in the emerging biotech sciences, with government officials calling biotech the “next-generation [economic] growth engine.”

With Europe allowing animal rights and other considerations to limit is ability to support biotech research, Asian countries such as South Korea, Japan and China could become leaders in the field, taking the research that Europe can’t or won’t pursue.


Korea Plans to Commercialize Animal Organs for Humans. Korea Herald, January 12, 2005.

South Korea approves cloning research. Agence-France Press, January 12, 2005.

Anti-Fur Activists Get Naked in South Korea

Anti-fur activists with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals held a nude demonstration in Seoul, South Korea, to protest fur.

Lisa Franzetta and Christina Cho painted their bodies with leopard prints and carried signs reading, “Only Animals Should Wear Fur.”

The protest lasted only briefly, however, before police showed up and forced the two into a police car. The Chosun Ilbo quoted an unnamed police officer as saying,

We thought about charging them with a criminal count of putting on an obscene performance, but we judged that to be too severe, so we are considering plans to write them up for a misdemeanor such as exposure and deporting them.


Animal rights group plans naked rally Friday. The Chosun Ilbo, January 6, 2005.

Naked Animal Rights’ Rally Grinds Downtown Seoul to a Halt. The Chosun Ilbo, January 7, 2005.

Activists protest fur clothing in downtown Seoul? The China Post, January 8, 2005.