The Japanese government has decided to temporarily halt the usage of free messaging app Line last week after discovering that engineers in China can access some personal information of users, which include names and phone numbers.
There are about 86 million Line users in Japan. In fact, two of three people in the country use the app, which was originally created by a Japanese subsidiary of a South Korean firm.
It was reported in March this year that engineers in China have accessed Line servers at least 32 times, allowing them to observe certain users’ names, phone numbers and messages.
However the company noted that there has not been any abuse or leak of personal information from accessing the servers.
Despite this confirmation, the government has decided to temporarily halt the usage of the app in the country, said Japan’s Chief Cabinet Security Katsunobu Kato on Monday (29 March).
“The government will halt the use of Line when handling sensitive information for now, and set up a task force swiftly, so that usage guidelines can be compiled soon,” he noted.
In an attempt to eliminate risks posed by China over information management, Line Corp. has also completely blocked access from China. Additionally, the firm was also forced to make a policy change to relocate image and other data stored in South Korea to Japan.
While speaking at a press conference on 23 March, Japan’s Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare Norihisa Tamura said, “We have been using Line for sending out information about suicide prevention measures, as well as for monitoring the health of people entering Japan from overseas, among other purposes. We will stop using Line as long as there are no problem with alternative measures.”
He added that the government has already switched to email for a number of its services.
Since its inception in 2011, Line has grown rapidly in Japan in tandem with the widespread use of smartphones. As a matter of fact, the app has been heavily used even by the government to report the daily number of COVID-19 patients. The local governments have also been using it to receive vaccine applications.
Responding to the actions by the Japanese government, Line Corp. announced that it has already taken steps to resolve this issue. It said that the Chinese engineering firm it outsources work can no longer access the data of users in Japan.
The new terms, which was rewrote on 6 January this year, allow Facebook to gain access to some personal information of users, such as contact lists, location, financial information and usage data.
Following this revelation, many users voiced their unhappiness with the new terms and made a switch to other messaging apps like Telegram and Signal.
Initially, WhatsApp set the deadline to accept its new privacy terms to 8 February 2021, but has since extended to 15 May 2021.
Correction: The title previously mentioned data breaches, which is incorrect as there had been no data breaches and has been corrected to state the issue is about data privacy.