Vietnam accuses Facebook of violating new cybersecurity law

  • The controversial law, which came into effect on January 1, requires internet companies to remove ‘toxic content’ and hand over user data
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 January, 2019, 8:45pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 January, 2019, 8:48pm

Facebook was defending itself on Wednesday against allegations that it allows illegal content in violation of Vietnam’s new cybersecurity law.

The social media giant said it had restricted such content and is in discussions with the government. “We have a clear process for governments to report illegal content to us, and we review all those requests against our terms of service and local law,” it said in a statement. “We are transparent about the content restrictions we make in accordance with local law.”

New year, new repression: Vietnam imposes draconian ‘China-like’ cybersecurity law

The comments came in response to Vietnamese state media reports that the Ministry of Information and Communication had complained about Facebook allowing users to upload slanderous content and anti-government comments.

This would be in violation of a controversial new law, which came into effect on January 1, that requires internet companies to remove “toxic content” and hand over user data when requested to do so by the authorities.

It also states that service providers such as Google and Facebook operating in the one-party state should store user data locally, which has sparked fears of data and privacy breaches and cybersecurity threats.

Facebook has found itself caught between such local requirements that restrict political dissent and its identity as a US company that says it strives to give “free expression maximum possible range.”

State broadcaster Vietnam Television reported on Wednesday that Facebook failed to take down pages allegedly calling for anti-government activities, citing requests from the Information and Communications Ministry.

The ministry sent several letters and emails requesting the removals, according to the report, but Facebook “delayed and even failed to remove information, claiming the information did not violate community standards,” VTV reported.

Vietnam also accused the company of hosting advertisements for “illegal products” including counterfeit money, fake goods, weapons and firecrackers, the report added.

The ministry could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Social media is a crucial platform for activists in communist Vietnam, where all independent press and public protests are banned.

Facebook is by far the most popular tool for activists, though several have complained to AFP in recent months that posts have disappeared and accounts been blocked.

Unlike in China, social media and instant messaging services like WhatsApp are not banned, and analysts say the cybersecurity law is a means to control online expression without banning services – a move that would likely cause widespread outcry.

There are more than 53 million Facebook users in Vietnam – over half of the population – many of whom use the site as a crucial platform for business and commerce.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse