If you are from South Korea or have lived there, you probably already know about the country’s most popular messaging app, KakaoTalk. You may also be aware that the former CEO of Kakao, Lee Seok-Woo, took a dramatic stand almost exactly a year ago, by agreeing not to cooperate with the South Korean government. The government wanted Kakao to turn over users’ data, but Lee Seok-Woo felt that turning over that information would be an “unjustified invasion of privacy”.
When the new CEO, Lim Ji-Hoon, took over the company on Sept 30th, he decided to take the opposite approach. It now appears that the feud between the South Korean government and Kakao is over. Compared to the former CEO, Lim seems uninterested in the privacy of the average user. He thinks their cooperation with the government will not affect most of the KakaoTalk users.
In this case, Lim is using a classic argument that governments have used for many years to justify surveillance. His argument is, unless you are doing something wrong, the government would have no reason to look at your KakaoTalk data. We feel that no matter what you choose to say or do, you should not have to worry about your conversations being monitored.
In light of these public privacy concerns, some South Korean citizens elected to use other apps that use end to end encryption like Snapchat or Telegram. KakaoTalk began offering an encrypted app as well, but with this reversal in policy, we would certainly be wary. KT offers various other services, including a shopping feature, video conferencing, and VoIP. Because of that, the loss of users could potentially hurt KakaoTalk’s bottom line.
Though privacy minded individuals would consider this a bad move, there is evidence that Kakao may have another goal in mind. Recently, the company submitted an application to open an internet bank. By working with the government to turn over Information, they hope to grease the wheels of progress. In other words, they are hoping the government regulators will allow the bank to open.
It has long been known that there are many layers to business practices in South Korea. It is sad, however, to see a company like Kakao move in the direction it is going out of greed. The message being sent here is, we do not care about your privacy, or if you trust us, or if something happensto you because of our betrayal. We are just here to make money. Their users are likely get the new message, but they may not receive it by using KakaoTalk.
If you do decide to still use KakaoTalk, you could protect yourself by using a VPN.