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Daum ends trending keywords

The feature will be switched off by the portal in February

Dec 24,2019
Daum will discontinue its list of trending keywords in February.

The portal announced search function reforms in October, but this is the first mention of a complete and permanent halt of the service with a clear final date set.

A real-time list of top searched words has been a staple feature on the front pages of Korean portal sites since the early days of development in the early 2000s, but the function generated its share of controversy. Critics were concerned that portal sites might intentionally salt or edit the keyword list.

Another possible problem was the manipulation of the results by coordinated action by groups of people with shared interests.

In a recent survey conducted by the Korea Press Foundation, 46.7 percent of 1,000 respondents believed that the trending keyword list should be retired.

Kakao, which operates Daum, acknowledged in a Monday statement that the real-time list of top keywords was not serving its original purpose of highlighting urgent issues, like natural disasters, or bringing important subjects to the fore.

“Recently the trending search list has become a starting point of happenings instead of a reflection of reality,” Kakao CEOs Yeo Min-soo and Joh Su-yong were quoted as saying in Monday’s statement. They added the trending keyword service will be replaced by a new service which more closely follows the original concept.

The move is in line with a pledge made by Kakao’s chief executives in October to reform news and search functions following the death of actress and singer Choi Jin-ri, also known as Sulli. Portal sites like Naver and Daum received their share of blame, with critics saying that the algorithms neglected individuals and that the service model helps disseminate hateful comments and rumors. Daum shut down the news comments boxes for articles in the entertainment section in late October.

Another measure that immediately went into effect on Monday was the halt of related search recommendations and predictive search functions for celebrities.

At the top of its search results, Daum recommends a list of keywords that are most related to the input word, based on the actual search patterns of users. For example, the results for “weather” would start with a recommended list of “Seoul weather” or “weekly weather report” which link users to that specific search page.

But when it comes to people, the function had the side effect of fueling false rumors or revealing private information that was not confirmed or disclosed to the public. Predictive searches - the function that automatically recommends related words as the user inputs a word in the website’s search box - had the same drawback.

Kakao acknowledged that its related search and predictive search functions have the potential to cause harm.

“We judged that when searching for people, these functions were creating negative effects like disrespect, privacy infringement and defamation,” Kakao said in a Monday statement. “Even words that were frequently searched by actual users can expose past accusations that were already resolved, ungrounded facts or private information that one does not want to share.”

Starting from Monday, searches for people will produce no recommendations. As for predictive searches, the function itself will continue, but Kakao changed the algorithm to show factual information based on a celebrity’s official profile, like age, released songs or filmography.

People who are not celebrities and do not have an official profile can also directly contact the portal site in case their names come up in the related or predictive search lists.

BY SONG KYOUNG-SON [song.kyoungson@joongang.co.kr]


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