The Kakao Talk messenger service outage happened over the weekend. It is an example that shows that ICT companies that significantly impact people's everyday lives have failed to display social responsibility. Kakao Talk and Kakao Mobility occupy almost 90% and 80% of the messenger and ride-hail services, respectively. Naver, which was also impacted, has a dominant position in Internet search.
Some 50 million users of Kakao Talk experienced disconnected everyday dialogue and business communication. Users could not access around 20 of Kakao’s hide hail, payment, money transfer, and food delivery services. Even government public services linked to Kakao Talk came to a halt. The incident showed how a mistake by a private company dominating a platform service in an ultra-connected world could paralyze society.
There were several opportunities to prevent such incidents. Experts have stressed that the government must enforce more robust data center management at significant ICT companies. After a fire incident that occurred underground at a KT branch in Ahyeon-dong in 2018, the government and National Assembly worked to promote legislation for including data centers in national disaster management facilities. However, the move was thwarted by companies that stressed internal protection measures were sufficient. Had the law been passed, it would have prevented the unprecedented network disruption last week, which occurred by operating servers on a specific rented data center instead of their own.
Moreover, platform businesses such as Naver and Kakao offer essential services that bring major disruption to everyday lives, even if stopped briefly. Despite their weight, these companies had been subject to tighter safety obligations compared to KT, ST, and other facilities-based communication providers as value-added carriers. Many people suffered economic loss from the outage, but getting compensation might not be easy as these companies offer free service as value-added carriers.
The platform business is known for its winner-takes-it-all way of business. The more users a platform business has, the more significant profit it has. Therefore, governments in the U.S. and E.U. are tasking big tech companies with more responsibilities and scrambling to create laws to prevent monopolies. Kakao, Naver, and other platform businesses should transform themselves to do their part as responsible corporate citizens.