With over 130 million users (as of May 2014), KakaoTalk is unarguably the number one mobile messenger in South Korea. However, its dominant position is being threatened as users are opting for other foreign mobile messengers, following the controversy of illegal government surveillance of KakaoTalk. Despite the prosecutor’s statement that such claimed illegal surveillance does not exist, there are signs of user migration to foreign messengers apps.
Most noticeably, German mobile messenger Telegram with a public mission of “taking back our right to privacy”, has become the most downloaded messaging app in recent weeks. It recorded the most number of downloads in the domestic iOS market in the past six days, and ranked number 3 in the Communications category in Google Play.
Another messaging app that is benefiting from the censorship rumor is Whatsapp, which also has servers located outside Korea. The number of domestic downloads has been rising steadily, as its ranking in Communication section rose from 30th on September 18 to 10th on September 29.
As more users look to foreign messengers, there is a rising concern over the adverse effects that government action can have on the domestic industry. According to KyongBae Min, professor of the Mobile Applications department at Kyunghee Cyber University, said “regardless of government’s dismissal of the surveillance, people’s apprehension over increasing Internet service monitoring could lead to migration to foreign services in the long term. People’s distrust of the government can carry on to suspicion of domestic services, and weaken the competitiveness of domestic IT industry”.