Indictments filed over smartphone privacy

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Indictments filed over smartphone privacy

Two companies and two of their officials were indicted yesterday on charges of illegally collecting personal information about customers through a software application for smartphones.

According to the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, indictments were filed against TomatoTV, the distributor of the smartphone application, and its developer, Semaphore Solutions Inc.

Officials from the two companies also face prosecution on charges of violating laws governing the use of information communication networks and protection of privacy.

It was the first time in Korea that law enforcement officials filed an indictment over privacy violations by a smartphone application.

Prosecutors said the application, eTomato Stock Master, provides real-time updates of the Korean stock market. The program was distributed from March to May through the Android smartphones app store.

Through the application, prosecutors collected 83,416 items of private information, including mobile phone numbers, International Mobile Equipment Identity and USIM numbers without the users’ authorization.

The International Mobile Equipment Identity, or IMEI, is a number used to identify a mobile phone, and USIM numbers store user subscriber information, authentication information and other private information.

The prosecution said the application allows personal information of users to be stored on the servers of TomatoTV to allow access to the program without logging in every time.

Despite the goal of providing convenience for users, the information, when combined with information from mobile telecommunication companies, allows others to identify specific users, thus violating the privacy protection laws, the prosecution said.

TomatoTV challenged the prosecution’s argument. The company said it meant to store personal information of app users only to allow convenient service to users. It also said the mobile telecommunication companies’ information is not easy to access.

The prosecution said the app users had not received sufficient explanations before consenting.

“This is the first investigation into the privacy protection of a smartphone application,” said Kim Young-dae, a senior prosecutor.


By Lee Chul-jae, Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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