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     Jun 19, 2010
Vietnam strengthens firewall
By Martin J Young

HUA HIN, Thailand - Search giant Google has expressed concern over new regulations that will allow the Vietnamese government to block access to websites and monitor the activity of Internet users. The decision, made at the end of April, affects commercial Internet access points in Hanoi city and could include cafes, hotels, restaurants and public transport terminals.

Vietnam is demanding that all retail Internet locations install "Internet Service Retailers Management Software recognized by the authority", by 2011. The move mimics China's attempt last year to force PC vendors to install third-party filtering software (see China adds brick to censors' firewall, Asia Times Online, June 13, 2009).

Google policy analysts have criticized the move by stating that it "is a troubling example of a government threatening free expression online and an open Internet". Human Rights Watch accused the government of "mounting a sophisticated and


sustained attack against online dissent, including detaining and intimidating anti-government bloggers".

The legislation at present applies only to Hanoi, but it is feared that it will soon become commonplace across the rest of the country. The convoluted list of prohibited actions for Hanoi's Internet population is long and includes opposing the government, endangering national security, disrupting the harmony of the people, propagating war, stereotyping, inciting unrest, calling for unlawful demonstrations and gatherings, impairing cultural values and watching pornography.

A cyber-threat targeting Vietnamese Internet users was uncovered in March by Google, which claimed that tens of thousands of users may have become infected with malware designed to spy on them following the downloading of Vietnamese keyboard language software. The government denied any involvement.

Vietnam's communist government is highly intolerant of dissent and has been known to jail bloggers and online activists as well as blocking high profile websites such as Facebook. It is rapidly climbing up a list of Asian countries including China, Thailand, Turkey, Pakistan and Iran that are increasing the censorship of information on the Internet.

The digital entertainment industry got a well-deserved boost this week at the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles. The three-day event. which started on Tuesday, showcased the best in computer and video gaming equipment and accessories to trade and industry professionals. All the big names were in attendance including Microsoft, Nintendo, Sony, Intel, Nvidia and a multitude of lesser-known gaming companies.

Unfortunately for thousands of gamers the E3 show was not open to the general public; the Internet however has been awash this week with news and reviews from the event.

Microsoft stole the show with a new system called Kinect, which allows full-body motion capture without the use of a controller. The Xbox 360 booth became the center of attention as people queued to try out the revolutionary console, which enables players to jump about and move to dodge digital distractions on the screen. The latest version of the company's cult game, Halo, was also demonstrated. Microsoft hopes that the action-packed Halo Reach will boost sales of their console.

Sony had a strong focus on 3D, although the majority of 3D games will not be available until next year. The company did showcase its motion controller, called Move, which seemed to be based on Nintendo's popular Wii platform but Sony says its own product has greater precision. Sony ranks third in games console sales with its PlayStation 3 and has a lot of work to do to catch up with Microsoft and Nintendo. The latter showcased a few new games and offered a sneak peak of its 3DS handheld platform, which has two screens, three cameras and motion sensors.

As predicted, Apple and AT&T have made a big mess of the pre-ordering system for the recently announced iPhone4. Not taking any heed of experience in previous product launches, which saw excessive demand overload servers and websites, AT&T, the exclusive carrier for the device, suspended pre-orders this week after its website suffered technical glitches that resulted in the leak of confidential customer information.

While Apple was boasting that it had received 600,000 pre-orders for the new iPhone, its exclusive partner was apologizing for the data leak and website failure. While the pre-order figure sounds impressive, it is unlikely that these are all new customers as many will be coming to the end of their contract with the carrier and looking to cash in on upgrading their old iPhone for the new one.

Yahoo has targeted Asia to expand its mobile services as more people in the region are currently using them. India and Indonesia will be specifically targeted as key markets as their data networks such as 3G are being expanded. Yahoo plans to link up with phone suppliers to boost data usage.

Other potential markets in the region, such as Thailand, are still lagging behind their neighbors for 3G adoption due to government red tape and squabbling over profit sharing.

India has 500 million mobile phone subscribers, with only 15 million using data services, whilst Indonesia has 130 million users with around a quarter of those using smart-phones. Yahoo recently teamed up with India's Alcatel to offer a low-cost smart-phone bundled with Yahoo content for around US$100. Apple offers no such incentives in emerging markets such as India and its iPhone costs around $600 in comparison.

Martin J Young is an Asia Times Online correspondent based in Thailand.

(Copyright 2010 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)


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