Vietnam rolls out web monitor to control ‘false information’

A Facebook page is displayed on a computer screen. Vietnam said on Wednesday it has set up a web monitoring unit that can scan up to 100 million news items per day for “false information.” (Reuters)
Updated 31 October 2018
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Vietnam rolls out web monitor to control ‘false information’

HANOI: Vietnam said on Wednesday it has set up a web monitoring unit that can scan up to 100 million news items per day for “false information,” in a move that tightens its grip on Internet freedom.
The one-party state has rolled out a series of measures to boost its control of online communication, which critics say is aimed at punishing activists who use Facebook and YouTube as their main platforms.
Lawmakers passed a tough cybersecurity law in June requiring Internet providers to store data in the country and remove “toxic content” if requested to do so. Firms like Facebook and Google will also have to hand over user data if asked by the government.
Neither company has publicly commented on the bill.
The move came after a top general announced a 10,000-strong Internet task force had been set up to monitor online posts.
Dissidents say the cyber-soldiers flood their Facebook pages with pro-government commentary.
The latest system includes software that can allegedly read 100 million items online daily “for analysis, evaluation and categorization,” said information minister Nguyen Manh Hung, according to the government’s website.
“It is necessary to legally punish those who publish wrong information on social media... we cannot leave this front unmanned,” he said.
He did not provide details on how the virtual unit functions, or how the so-called dubbed the National Center on Supervising Information can scan such a large chunk of data.
In a veiled reference to Facebook and Google, he added Vietnam should be “tougher” in asking international Internet companies to follow Vietnamese laws, namely requests to remove information.
The communist country has tightened the noose on Internet expression and is accused of targeting activists, who rely on Facebook as a widely popular and crucial platform since all media is state-controlled.
The cybersecurity law, which mimics China’s web law and is set to come into effect in January, prompted outcry from the US, the EU and rights groups.
The Ministry of Public security said the bill was aimed at staving off cyber-attacks — and weeding out “hostile and reactionary forces” using the web to stir up violence and dissent, according to a transcript of a question-and-answer session with lawmakers this week.
Critics say web freedom is shrinking under a hard-line administration in charge since 2016, under which dozens of activists have been jailed at a pace not seen in years.
The administration has also gone after protesters who waged rare protests in June over a proposed investment law, with nearly 80 people jailed.
Another 30 people were sentenced to between two and 3.5 years on Wednesday in central Binh Thuan province, where the demonstrations spun out of control.
The nation-wide protests — which also included calls to scrap the cyber law — came as a surprise in a country where demonstrations of any kind are banned.
They were fueled by anti-China sentiment, with protesters accusing the government of offering long-term leases to Chinese investors in proposed special economic zones, though Beijing was not named in the bill.


Google fined $1.7bn for search ad blocks

Updated 20 March 2019
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Google fined $1.7bn for search ad blocks

  • Google received three fines in the past two years
  • EU Commission says Google has been blocking competitors for the past ten years

BRUSSELS: Google was fined $1.7 billion on Wednesday for blocking rival online search advertisers, the third large European Union antitrust penalty for the Alphabet business in two only years.

The European Commission, which said the fine accounted for 1.29 percent of Google’s turnover in 2018, said in a statement that the anti-competitive practices had lasted a decade.

“Google has cemented its dominance in online search adverts and shielded itself from competitive pressure by imposing anti-competitive contractual restrictions on third-party websites,” European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said.

The case concerned websites, such as of newspaper or travel sites, with a search function that produces search results and search adverts. Google’s AdSense for Search provided such search adverts.

The misconduct included stopping publishers from placing any search adverts from competitors on their search results pages, forcing them to reserve the most profitable space on their search results pages for Google’s adverts and a requirement to seek written approval from Google before making changes to the way in which any rival adverts were displayed.

The AdSense advertising case was triggered by a complaint from Microsoft in 2010. Both companies subsequently dropped complaints against each other in 2016.

Last year, Vestager imposed a record $4.92 billion fine on Google for using its popular Android mobile operating system to block rivals. This followed a $2.74 billion fine in June 2017 for hindering rivals of shopping comparison websites.

Google is now trying to comply with the order to ensure a level playing field with proposals to boost price comparison rivals and prompt Android users to choose their preferred browsers and search apps. Critics however are still not happy.