Google under pressure from Vietnam to open rep office to boost internet control

By Nguyen Ha   January 18, 2018 | 11:00 pm PT
Google under pressure from Vietnam to open rep office to boost internet control
People browse the internet on their phone in a Saigon street. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran
Google has removed thousands of ‘toxic’ videos and anti-government games, but Vietnam says it's not enough.

Vietnam’s information minister has asked Google to open a representative office in Vietnam to facilitate its coordination with the local government to deal with online content issues.

The current level of cooperation between Vietnam and Google “does not meet the necessary requirements,” Minister Truong Minh Tuan said at a meeting on Wednesday with Ann Lavin, Google’s Director of Public Policy and Government Affairs in Asia Pacific.

Between March and December last year, Google removed 6,423 out of 7,140 videos from YouTube that Vietnam said contained “bad” or “toxic” content. The world's biggerst search engine also removed several games from Google Play on similar grounds.

Tuan said Google’s cooperation in these matters has been effective, but it is still short of what the government requires.

He asked Google to consider setting up a local office to “directly receive requests from the Vietnamese government and fulfill its responsibilities regarding its business operations in Vietnam.”

He said Vietnam is open to internet and social media development, but the parties involved need to comply with local laws and minimize violations on these platforms.

Lavin reportedly gave no response regarding the establishment of an office, but she promised the company will follow Vietnamese laws and protect local users.

Vietnam has around 50 million internet users, or more than half of its population.

The government has been making efforts to tighten control of the online environment, especially after offensive videos on YouTube caused worldwide uproar.

Google Europe had to apologize in March for allowing ads to appear alongside these videos after multinational companies backed out of ad campaigns.

A month later, Vietnam’s government called on all companies to stop advertising on YouTube, Facebook and other social media until it could find a way to end the publication of “toxic” anti-government information.

Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google’s parent company Alphabet, met with Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc in May and pledged to work with Vietnam's government to filter its content.

Schmidt said he would consider opening an office in Vietnam, a proposal raised by the PM, according to a report on the government’s website.

The world’s biggest social network Facebook has also removed 159 anti-government accounts following requests from Vietnam, the information ministry said last month.

To enhance its control, Vietnam had planned to require the likes of Google and Facebook to install servers in the country, but earlier this month decided to scrap the article from a draft cyber-security law, which is expected to be discussed again by national legislators in May.

In November, Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam told the legislative National Assembly that social media in Vietnam “has to go hand in hand with political stability, and must not distort, defame, divide or disseminate content that goes against the policies of the Party and the State, or Vietnamese culture.”

Minister Tuan said last year that “there are good and bad people” on the internet and to ensure accurate information, “we need social networks provided by local businesses that can replace and compete with Facebook.”

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