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Facebook gets squeezed by the Vietnamese

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Authoritarian governments love the way the internet grows their economies. But they hate the way diss
 
May 18 · Issue #140 · View online
The Interface
Authoritarian governments love the way the internet grows their economies. But they hate the way dissidents use it to complain about their rule. What’s a dictatorship to do?
Later this month, lawmakers Vietnam will vote on “cyber security” legislation intended to address this, report Mai Nguyen and Jonathan Weber:
Facebook, Google and other global companies are pushing back hard against provisions that would require them to store data on Vietnamese users locally and open offices in the country. But they have not taken the same tough stance on parts of the proposed law that would bolster the government’s crackdown on online political activism.
Vietnam offers a case study in the conflicting pressures the likes of Facebook and Google confront when operating in countries with repressive governments. It also shows how authoritarian regimes try to walk a line in controlling online information and suppressing political activism without crippling the digital economy. 
Requiring that data be stored locally in Vietnam, as opposed to in Singapore where Facebook’s Asian operations are based, is part of a fast-developing global trend that is fragmenting the global internet into three distinct zones: the United States, the European Union, and China. The Financial Times reported on the phenomenon this week:
Governments have sharply increased “data localisation” measures requiring information to be held in servers inside individual countries. The European Centre for International Political Economy, a think-tank, calculates that in the decade to 2016, the number of significant data localisation measures in the world’s large economies nearly tripled from 31 to 84.
Even in advanced economies, exporting data on individuals is heavily restricted because of privacy concerns, which have been highlighted by the Facebook/ Cambridge Analytica scandal. Many EU countries have curbs on moving personal data even to other member states. Studies for the Global Commission on Internet Governance, an independent research project, estimates that current constraints — such as restrictions on moving data on banking, gambling and tax records — reduces EU GDP by half a per cent.
We’ve previously written here about how fake news is an issue that unifies the left and right. On the left, Brazil and France are seeking to criminalize the posting of misinformation, for fear that it undermines the state. On the right, Malaysia and now Vietnam are seeking to do the same thing, for the same reason.
When it comes to this “data protectionism,” the left and right are once again united — though for different reasons. In the European Union, requiring that data be stored locally is intended as a privacy protection. In Vietnam, it’s about intimidation. Nguyen and Weber again:
But the government also wants more control, including local data storage and local corporate offices - a provision company officials privately fear is designed to allow the government to intimidate companies by exposing individuals to arrest.
The Reuters story suggests Facebook has acceded to the demands to restrict more anti-government content in hopes the regime will bend on requiring them to open a local office in Vietnam. It’s the sort of icky Realpolitik that doesn’t get enough attention — and which seems to conflict with Facebook’s stated principles for building “social infrastructure.”
As the new law moves through the system in Vietnam, we’ll keep an eye on it.

Democracy
Cambridge Analytica Just Filed For US Bankruptcy
Activists from Myanmar and beyond call for Facebook to fix moderation
Fake Facebook accounts and online lies multiply in hours after Santa Fe school shooting
News Organizations Flag Concerns on Facebook’s Political-Ad Rules
Tech Firms Move to Put Ethical Guard Rails Around AI
If You Get 7/7 On This Quiz You're A Fake News–Fighting Superhero
Elsewhere
How Evan Spiegel Fumbled Snap’s Redesign
Adam Mosseri on Facebook’s complicated relationship with the media
Magazine publishers with video ambitions see YouTube as safer bet than Facebook
The Instagram Stars of High-School Basketball
Launches
A leaked look at Facebook’s search engine for influencer marketing
Takes
Snapchat’s decline and the secret joy of internet ghost towns
The Tragic Rise of Lil Tay
And finally ...
Google is very bad at naming its products.
Talk to me
Questions? Comments? Should I do a reporting trip to Vietnam? casey@theverge.com
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