Vietnam: Criticize government on social media and go to jail

Vietnam is joining the ranks of Iran, Saudi Arabia, and China, as being known as a country that censors its citizens on social media.

The government introduced a new law this week that fines people $4,740 for posting comments critical of the government on social-networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, according to Reuters. Some people could also face extensive prison terms.

While the law is unclear about what kind of speech sparks government censorship, it does say that "propaganda against the state" and "reactionary ideology" would elicit fines.

Vietnam's communist government has increasingly … Read more

B-2s, B-52s, and the plane that ended World War II

DAYTON, Ohio -- It's hard to stand in front of the B-29 Superfortress and not be awed by its history.

Deep inside the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base here, visitors can come face to face with Bockscar, the plane that dropped Fat Man, the atomic bomb that leveled Nagasaki, Japan, on August 9, 1945, effectively ending World War II.

The museum has what is likely the most impressive collection of military aircraft in the world. Spread across three gigantic hangars, plus a section filled with missiles, and both a collection of … Read more

Meet the 'Corporate Enemies of the Internet' for 2013

National governments are increasingly purchasing surveillance devices manufactured by a small number of corporate suppliers and using them to control dissidents, spy on journalists, and violate human rights, the advocacy group Reporters Without Borders warns in a new report released this afternoon.

The group's 2013 report for the first time names five private-sector companies "Corporate Enemies of the Internet" for their choice to become "digital mercenaries" and sell surveillance and censorship technology to authoritarian regimes.

"If these companies decided to sell to authoritarian regimes, they must have known that their products could be used … Read more

In Vietnamese village, tech rewires old traditions

HANAM, Vietnam--Once you've been gone for so long, the place you come from no longer exists.

The place in question is my birthplace of Nhan Dao, a small village of about 4,700 residents in Hanam province, some 60 miles south of Hanoi. To put things in perspective, when I was growing up here in the '80s and early '90s, a trip to the capital of Hanoi would take eight hours one way. There was no paved road, no electricity, and no running water. For those reasons, until about 10 or 15 years ago, most people in Nhan Dao spent their whole lives within about a 20-mile radius of the village.

During that time, the only piece of modern technology I knew of was the lone loudspeaker, positioned in the middle of the village, which broadcast Radio the Voice of Vietnam from 5 in the morning to 10 at night. For years, it was what I woke up to and went to bed with, and it was the voice of one of the VoV newscasters that inspired me to become a journalist.

Life in the village was calm and simple then, and, for the most part, happy, despite the lack of wealth or connections to the outside world. Everybody, apart from working hard day in and day out in the rice fields, always looked forward to holidays, especially Tet, the traditional Vietnamese new year, when relatives and friends visit, children get lucky money, and celebrants feast on dishes including steamed square cakes made of sticky rice, pork, and green beans and wrapped in leaves. In the simplest terms, Tet in Vietnam is like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's all rolled into one.

After being in the States for so long and especially after several long days immersed in gadgets at CES 2011, I wanted to go back and experience Tet again for the first time in 10 years. I wanted to try to stay away from technology and the Internet for a while and find glimpses of the simple life I had once known.

That was not to be. I discovered that while Tet is still here, most of the simple life I remember has gone for good.… Read more

Film pirates have formidable new MPAA foe

Look out film pirates; you're now up against a Navy SEAL.

According to a report in The Hollywood Reporter, former U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey has agreed to lead the Motion Picture Association of America once a few details are ironed out. The trade publication reported that the main issue left to decide is exactly when Kerrey will start. Kerrey is president of the New School, a university in New York where he is still under contract.

Kerry, who represented Nebraska in the U.S. Senate and ran unsuccessfully as a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1992, … Read more

Vietnamese status seekers pay up for iPhone 4

HANOI, Vietnam--"Whoa! That just looks so pretty on you!" That's part of a conversation I overheard between two trendy twentysomething women in an air-conditioned cafe on a hot summer day here.

Their chat caught my attention, among other reasons, because the accessory in question wasn't a sparkling engagement ring or the super short shorts they were both wearing but Apple's latest smartphone, the iPhone 4.

I've heard a lot of people in Hanoi, by the way, call the newly released Apple smartphone the "iPhone 4G" (or 4G for short). This misperception about the product's name, however, is much easier to understand than the incredibly high price the phone is selling for here.

Since the first generation of the device, the iPhone has been a much sought-after gadget in Vietnam. In the beginning, the phone wasn't officially available in the country (local providers, including Viettel and VinaPhone, started carrying the iPhone 3GS just about three months ago) and most were smuggled in from the States and had to be unlocked before they could be used, courtesy of Apple's tight controls and exclusive deal with AT&T.

The iPhone used to be not just hard to find but also hard to use in Vietnam, compared with other smartphones. That's because if a user accidentally upgrades the phone's operating system (some people upgrade the phone's firmware without knowing what they are doing), it will be locked again and become useless until a new unlock method is available.

Despite that nuisance, when the iPhone 3G first came out, the locked U.S. version cost about twice its original price in Vietnam. The phone was so popular that unlocking it became a lucrative business in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city.

The iPhone 4, though, will likely be available soon via proper channels, and there are apparently many who are willing to pay up to $2,500 to be the first in the country to have one.

I checked out the iShop in Hanoi, one of a few electronic stores in Vietnam that sell Apple products and have the new iPhone on sale. Here, the 32GB version is currently priced at $1,850, the 16GB is cheaper at $1,600. These phones are international versions smuggled in from France and are "factory unlocked," meaning no unlocking is necessary before they can work with Vietnamese GSM service providers.

There are also locked U.S. versions of the phones--which currently can't be used with Vietnamese carriers until a method to get them unlocked is available--that cost around $1,000. During the 15 minutes I was in the iShop, a few other people came in to check out the phone, marveling at its gorgeous Retina display and then leaving after learning about the outrageous prices. … Read more

Report confirms Call of Duty: Vietnam

For more than a year, rumors have circulated that Treyarch's installment in the Call of Duty series would be set during the Cold War or the Vietnam War specifically. Thursday, Silicon Valley blog VentureBeat reported that the game's title will indeed be Call of Duty: Vietnam when it is revealed on SpikeTV late Friday night/Saturday morning.

Read more of "Call of Duty: Vietnam confirmed--report" at GameSpot.

Vietnam denies involvement with cyberattacks

The Vietnam government dismissed what it called "groundless" accusations that it was involved in recent cyberattacks used to intimidate opponents of a mining project in Vietnam.

Malware disguised as a popular Vietnamese-language keyboard driver was used to create a botnet that targeted blogs rallying against a bauxite mining project in Vietman, according to blog posts from Google's Neel Mehta and McAfee Chief Technical Officer George Kurtz.

"The perpetrators may have political motivations and may have some allegiance to the government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam," Kurtz said in his blog.

"The comments are … Read more

Vietnamese dissidents targeted by botnet attacks

Cyberattacks were recently used to intimidate opponents of a mining project in Vietnam with ties to China, according to Google and McAfee.

Malware that was disguised as a popular Vietnamese-language keyboard driver for Windows users was used to create a botnet, according to blog posts from Google's Neel Mehta and McAfee Chief Technical Officer George Kurtz. That botnet was then used to target blogs rallying against a bauxite mining project in Vietman, employing DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks to shut down those blogs, according to the posts.

The two companies discovered the botnet and malware during an investigation … Read more

Facebook in Vietnam: Social-networking blues

HANOI, Vietnam--Vietnam's access to Facebook has been intermittent at best for about a month. However, after two weeks here in Hanoi, I haven't been able to get an official answer as to whether the popular social-networking Web site is being blocked here.

Internet service providers in Vietnam blame the spotty access on "technical issues," without offering an estimate for when the problems will be resolved. A representative from Viettel, a DSL and cell phone service provider, told me "there might be something wrong with Facebook."

None of the government personnel I was able to talk to during a recent trip back to my homeland would give me an answer, either. Some seemed to be unaware of the outage. However, during a media briefing on December 3, Nguyen Phuong Nga, a representative of Vietnam's Foreign Ministry, affirmed that agencies have been evaluating the contents of certain social Web sites because "many people in Vietnam have been upset that a number of social Web sites have been misused," basically posting information of an undisclosed nature that is deemed inappropriate.

I'm unaware of any misuse, but the upset seems much louder from the other side. With more than a million users and counting, the limited access to Facebook has created a lot of anguish. Lan Nguyen, a 23-year-old English student in Hanoi said, "I use Facebook daily. Now, it feels like something just got stolen from me." She uses FPT Telecom, one of the biggest DSL providers in Vietnam.

Ha Do of Ho Chi Minh city, another mid-20s, self-proclaimed Facebook addict who has some 1,800 friends, put it simply: "This sucks big time!" She revealed, however, that she still could access the site from some cafes, though definitely not from home. Upset and disappointment are common feelings among those I talked to about the matter.

This also affects a lot of small businesses in Vietnam, especially bars, restaurants, and tourism agencies that use Facebook to promote themselves to the outside world.

A curious silence The week before I arrived in Vietnam, I was wondering why most of my Facebook friends in the country completely ignored my poking and never updated their pages. I'm afraid things won't get any better. … Read more