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October 24, 2019

Lawmaker says fintech unicorn Toss breaking law, abusing ‘keyword marketing’

PUBLISHED : October 04, 2019 - 17:11

UPDATED : October 04, 2019 - 17:25

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Seoul-based financial technology unicorn Viva Republica, known for its flagship money transfer app Toss, has interfered with the business of web portal operator Naver by misusing the practice of keyword marketing, a South Korean lawmaker argued Oct. 4.

Naver’s “most searched keywords” section -- which helps Naver users keep up with the latest trends -- recently began featuring an unusual number of terms related to Toss promotional events, where users could benefit from small rewards and giveaways from Toss in exchange for typing in terms such as “BBQ vampire chicken.” 

Courtesy of lawmaker Rep. Park Sun-sook

Once a keyword makes the “most searched” list, it becomes visible on Naver’s front page. Since the company controls nearly 70 percent of the domestic web portal market, rewarding users for typing in “BBQ vampire chicken” brings massive attention and user traffic to brand owner Genesis BBQ -- a Toss marketing client.

According to Rep. Park Sun-sook of the minor opposition Bareunmirae Party, gaming the system for marketing purposes harms Naver users.

“Toss has interfered with Naver’s normal business because inappropriate and wrongful keywords hampered the normal operation of Naver,” Park said.

The “most searched” list featured 287 keywords related to Toss marketing campaigns from Aug. 28 to Oct. 2, Park estimated. Other companies that engaged in similar marketing tactics included LG Uplus, E-mart, Genesis BBQ, Lotte GRS and Samsung Electronics.

Park demanded that the state-run Korea Communication Commissions launch an investigation, saying the behavior constitutes interference with business, which under the Criminal Act can result in prison terms of up to five years or fines of as much as 15 million won ($12,500).

The remarks were part of a parliamentary audit that began Sept. 30 and runs through Oct. 18.

By Son Ji-hyoung (consnow@heraldcorp.com)

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