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Kakao Map faces user data leak dispute

A sample image of Kakao Map (Kakao website)
A sample image of Kakao Map (Kakao website)
South Korea’s popular GPS location service Kakao Map is dealing with controversy surrounding allegations of leaking user data, amid heightened concerns about private information following a string of recent incidents.

Users of Kakao Map, which has some 5 million users, raised the issue earlier this week through a media outlet, claiming their personal information seems to have leaked from the location service. It turned out to be partially true, but it was also pointed out that the users had unintentionally agreed to share the information.

Kakao Map Favorites is a popular feature on Kakao Map that allows users to save frequently visited lists of places, including favorites restaurants, children’s schools, workplaces, friends’ homes and one’s own home. If a user initially saves a favorite place on Kakao Map for the first time, a folder name has to be typed in for categorizing purposes. Then a window pops up asking the user to verify whether to disclose the information for public access.

The problematic issue occurs at this stage, when the pop-up screen, depending on the user’s mobile phone display, can be covered by the keyboard layout, making it hardly recognizable. If one swipes “next,” the app automatically chooses the default setting to allow the disclosure.

Cases were confirmed including not only users’ choices of go-to restaurants, but also where military sites and prostitution businesses were marked as favorites, openly accessible and able to be seen by any other user.

Seo Moon-ju, who lives in Busan, says she has considered deleting the app since hearing the news. “I haven’t saved any lists other than my home, my parent’s home and the current company that I’m working for. But still, I find it quite unpleasant that Kakao Map is revealing my surroundings,” Seo said. 

In response to the incidents, the Personal Information Protection Commission announced Friday that it has officially requested that Kakao change the default privacy terms and conditions to be marked as “do not disclose” in the app.

Although Kakao immediately acquiesced and switched the default option to “do not disclose,” the company still insisted there were clear guidelines beforehand to obtain users’ permission in collecting data, and that it had not violated any personal information protection laws.

As a result, users who are freshly starting the service will not have to worry about their saved folder preferences going public, but existing service users will have to go into the settings tab to change the agreement conditions.

The PIPC and the Korea Internet and Security Agency are jointly examining whether Kakao has violated related laws in the past, and will take steps accordingly if any cases are found.

By Kim Hae-yeon (