South Korea's Kakao Talk vows to put privacy before law

Consumers in the Gangnam district of Seoul in July 2013. The Bank of Korea has cut interest rates twice in three months (AFP Photo/Ed Jones) (AFP/File)

The operator of South Korea's dominant instant-messaging service Kakao Talk has vowed to put privacy before the law and deny investigating state prosecutors access to the messages of its users. The Supreme Prosecutors' Office and various government agencies, including the National Police Agency, last month announced "proactive" measures to prevent the spread of false and malicious online postings. The crackdown came after President Park Geun-Hye, whose personal life has been a topic of online comments in recent months, complained that such posts were socially divisive and destructive. But in a news conference late Monday, the co-chief executive of Daum Kakao, Lee Sirgoo, publicly apologised to users who have begun defecting to other messaging apps because of concerns about its privacy commitments. "We regret that Daum Kakao failed to understand the anxiety of Kakao Talk users," Lee said. "In order to prevent ourselves from making the same mistake, we will make privacy our top priority when there is clash between privacy and law," he added. Lee said it had ceased responding to prosecutors' warrants from October 7, and would continue to do so in the future. "If our decision is a violation of the law, I as the head of Daum Kakao, will bear any responsibility," he added. Out of a total population of 50 million, around 35 million South Koreans are estimated to use Kakao Talk. It was not clear if Daum Kakao's decision to cease entertaining prosecutors' access requests would bring the company into a legal confrontation with the government. "Kakao Talk has grown on the back of users' trust. We will make every effort to regain that trust," Lee said.