Expats confused over Vietnam’s profile picture requirement for phone users

By Dat Nguyen   April 21, 2018 | 10:20 pm PT
Expats confused over Vietnam’s profile picture requirement for phone users
Customers submitting their photos and personal information at a network provider agent in Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress
Some have no idea about the requirement, others find it invasive while network providers can’t guarantee help in English.

Expats are having issues with Vietnam’s new regulation which asks phone users to submit a profile picture to their network provider.

The Ministry of Information and Communications requires mobile subscribers to provide photographic proof of their identities before April 24, or they will be locked out of their network.

Ryan, 28, is a Briton working in Hanoi. He had no ideas about the new regulation until VnExpress International contacted him because the profile photo request was sent to his phone in Vietnamese.

“I've never had to do this in the U.K. or in any other countries I've travelled through,” Ryan said, adding that he finds the requirement “invasive”.

In light of recent data breaches by companies as large as Facebook, Ryan is concerned that his information could fall into the wrong hands. “I don’t know if I could trust my network provider with my information,” he said.

The government claims the requirement will result in better control of network subscribers and prevent spam accounts.

But while network providers claim user data will only be used to manage subscribers as stated by law, experts believe the regulation has loopholes that could be taken advantage of.

The images could slip through the network security holes, a scenario in which the responsibility of the network provider has not yet been clearly defined, said lawyer Vu Tien Vinh.

A photo taken by a customer and sent to a network provider cannot be authenticated, Vinh added.

Having been to many Asian countries, Mark from Canada finds the regulation odd. “Why would a phone company need my photo?” he said.

Ryan and Mark are not the only expats who are having issues with the regulation. Many foreigners are also confused as local mobile operators don’t seem to provide the assistance they need.

On Saturday, customer service centers of all major network providers were packed with customers coming in to have their photos taken.

Amid the chaos, employees at the centers suggested that foreigners could bring in their passport, or take a photo of their passport and submit it to the companies' websites. But, they could not guarantee there would be anyone who speaks English available to help.

Vietnam has 118.7 million mobile subscriptions, according to official data and there are 82,000 foreigners living and working in the country. As of last week, at least 38 million mobile phone users have not provided adequate personal information to network providers, said Nguyen Duc Trung, a senior telecommunications official at the Ministry of Information and Communications, as cited by Tuoi Tre.

Mark is one of them. The 35-year-old is not planning to do anything yet. “I’ll see if they actually lock my account,” he said.

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