Korean messaging company Kakao Talk denies collecting MAC addresses from PC users

Korean messaging company Kakao Talk denies collecting MAC addresses from PC users

Korean messaging firm Kakao has denied media reports that it is collecting sensitive data from users who downloaded its Kakao Talk desktop client which launched in Korea last week.

A report from the Korea Herald claims that the company is collecting the MAC addresses of users with the PC client in order to prevent multiple downloads. That drew concern since the information — which is a unique identifier given to all Internet-enabled devices — could cause significant security issues were it to leak into the wrong hands.

Kakao rejected the reports as false. The company issued a statement that provides clarity on how it identifies PC downloads, which is not by MAC addresses:

With KakaoTalk PC, we generate a hash code (an undecodable unique identification code) for individual computer devices based on various hardware information in order to distinguish individual devices, but the MAC address is not part of the information that is collected in this process.

The information we extract from the LAN card is the device model information, which is used to check check whether a user was using a wire or wireless network connection. This information is only collected when an error has occurred and when the user decides to send an error report to Kakao.

The distinction is important because, if the company were to have its systems hacked into, MAC addresses would be a lucrative data haul which hackers could sell on or use to impersonate other machines online. As it standard, using other information (and coding it) makes the potential impact of leaked information less severe.

The mix-up appears to center around the fact that Kakao had specifically revealed it collects information relating to a PC’s ‘LAN card’, which Korean media incorrectly assumed referred to a device’s MAC address.

For now, the Kakao Talk desktop app is limited to Korea and only for computers running Windows. It will be available for international users from tomorrow (June 26). The company was understood to be testing a version for Macs, but it previously declined to comment on that.

Kakao Talk recently passed 90 million users worldwide, but its home market of Korea is by far its most successful country, accounting for an estimated 40 million-plus users.

In addition to its desktop app, the company also introduced a Facebook Home-style launcher for Android devices — named Kakao Home — which picked up 1 million downloads within two weeks of launching. For now, there is no plan to release Kakao Home to overseas users, the company says.

Image via Thinkstock

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