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Rakuten CEO touts Viber's ability to counter Russian 'fake news' during Kyiv visit

FILE PHOTO: Hiroshi Mikitani, CEO of Rakuten, attends the annual Allen and Co. Sun Valley media conference in Sun Valley, Idaho

By Max Hunder

KYIV (Reuters) - Hiroshi Mikitani, the founder and chief executive of Rakuten Group (4755.T), on Saturday touted the ability of his company's Viber messaging platform to counter Russian propaganda.

"Unlike other social media, we've made it crystal clear we're going to block all these fake news and propaganda of Russia," Mikitani told Reuters in a Zoom interview during a visit to Kyiv.

The 58-year old was speaking after meeting senior Ukrainian officials earlier in the day as part of a group of Japanese business leaders accompanying Japan's Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi on a visit to Ukraine's capital.

"We met almost all ministers and they are building a future strategy... they have a macro-economic growth strategy, and I am very encouraged and impressed," he said.

Viber, which launched in 2010 and was acquired by Rakuten in 2014, has a 98% market penetration rate in Ukraine. It is also popular in Russia.

Asked if the app had faced attempts to breach it by Russia, he said there had not been any breaches.

"We have never been breached by Russia in the past. Sometimes, way before the war, we had requests, which we rejected... we do not have any security concerns."

Mikitani did not elaborate on what was requested or by whom, but said that Viber has never given any information to any government.

The billionaire entrepreneur has previously been vocal in his support for Ukraine and made a 1 billion yen ($6.77 million) donation to its government at the start of the invasion.

Rakuten has announced plans to work with Ukraine's largest mobile operator, Kyivstar, to provide Open Radio Access Network (Open RAN) telecommunications technology that uses software to run network functions on the cloud, something Mikitani has touted as a technology of the future.

"All this hardware-based technology is the technology of maybe 2010," he said. "Software is going to be much more efficient, total cost of operation will go down maybe 30% to 50%."

($1 = 147.8100 yen)

(Reporting by Max Hunder; Editing by Mike Harrison)