Vietnam recently announced measures to promote home-grown mobile apps and set the ambitious target of migrating half the country’s social media users to domestic platforms in just two years.
It also aims to become one of the top-ten digital content developers in the world.
The directives came at the same time the government issued a code of conduct on social networks for ISPs and users, designed to create “a healthy networking atmosphere”.
Canalys research manager Rushabh Doshi told Mobile World Live (MWL) the code is the latest example of governments fighting the spread of fake news, with the political implications rather obvious: closely monitor web content to maintain political stability while promoting and protecting indigenous technologies and local companies, which has been the Vietnam government’s focus across all industrial sectors not just ICT.
Vietnam’s Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC) wants 50 per cent of internet users in the country to use social media apps developed by local companies by 2020 and up to 70 per cent by 2022, domestic media reported.
While many of the country’s 57 million active social media users spend much of their time on Facebook and YouTube, Doshi said the popularity of domestic messaging app Zalo (developed by technology company VNG) means the government’s goal is not far-fetched.
In the space of five years, the app has signed up 35 million active users, compared with about 22 million for Coc Coc, a service often referred to as the Google of Vietnam because it offers services including web browser and maps.
The only question in Doshi’s mind is how the government will define a social network user. He explained Zalo is the platform of choice for many local governments seeking to improve public services and interaction with citizens: at least 20 provincial and municipal authorities offer Zalo portals.
Vietnam’s National Assembly passed a cybersecurity law in June which will require internet companies operating in the country to store user data locally; open up local offices; and quickly remove content considered “negative and toxic” from their platforms. The controversial law comes into effect in January 2019, but earlier this month the government said it may give international companies a year to comply.
The law has drawn criticism from authorities in the US and EU along with advocacy groups, all of which argue the move could slow development of the country’s internet ecosystem. Meanwhile, global internet players including Facebook and Google have raised concerns about the localisation requirements.
While couched as a bid to boost the local apps market, these laws are being regarded as a means to surreptitiously introduce tougher government control on internet content, similar to those China has already implemented. Vietnam would certainly not be alone in following China: Thailand’s government in 2017 proposed imposing financial penalties on overseas internet companies that don’t swiftly remove allegedly illegal content.
With Vietnam’s information and communications minister recently stating the national cybersecurity agency is able to monitor, analyse and categorise more than 100 million messages per day, it’s clear the new laws are about far more than just ensuring data privacy for its citizens and promoting domestic champions.
As in China, companies including Google and Facebook need to carefully reassess their businesses in Vietnam if the new laws require them to heavily censor content, or hand over user information upon request by the government.
The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.Subscribe to our daily newsletter