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Vietnam’s government has directed companies not to advertise on videos hosted by Google’s YouTube platform that contain “reactionary” or “anti-state” content, in the latest confrontation between the communist-ruled state and US tech groups.

Vietnam’s broadcasting and electronic information authority, which comes under the purview of its Ministry of Information and Communications, asked dozens of brands to pull their ads from these video clips, state-controlled media reported on Wednesday.

“Google was found to loosely manage its content, allowing users to buy ads directly from YouTube and Google without the involvement of domestic ads agents,” the Vietnam News Agency said. The broadcasting authority also accused Google’s advertising agents and content creators in Vietnam of being “involved in violations”.

The government described its declaration as a request, and did not say what consequences might await companies if they did not comply.

According to Vietnam’s information ministry, there are about 55,000 clips on YouTube that contain “toxic” or “Illegal” content, about 8,000 of which have been taken down.

Google did not respond to a request for comment.

According to state media, the companies mentioned included China’s Huawei Technologies, Singapore-based ride-hailing app Grab, and local affiliates of Samsung Electronics and Yamaha Motor.

Google and Facebook’s showdown with Vietnam puts them in an uncomfortable spot between a one-party state that wants to control dissent, and human rights groups that say the US internet platforms play an important role allowing free communication in a country where the media and political discourse are censored.

Unlike the “great firewall” that China’s communist rulers built around their country’s internet, Vietnam has allowed the US tech giants to operate, but has tried to contain their power under a restrictive cyber-security law passed last year.

The law will require companies with an online presence in Vietnam to open local offices and store their data in-country. It also will give authorities more power to act in cases where state security is said to be at stake.

Business groups have warned that Vietnam’s increasing efforts to police the internet will stunt digital transformation in one of Asia’s fastest-growing economies.

Companies in Vietnam are now awaiting the government’s publication of an implementing decree that will make clear just how far the cyber-security law reaches.

In Vietnam, the push to police tech companies has exposed different factions within its government. The powerful Ministry of Public Security took a lead role in drafting the cyber-security law.

Nguyen Manh Hung, Vietnam’s minister of information, last week told the country’s rubber-stamp parliament that Vietnamese citizens should not create “cybertrash” and must “clean up after themselves online”.

Separately, Vietnam in January accused Facebook of failing to take down “slanderous content” from its platform, and said it was considering withholding some of the company’s advertising revenues.

According to Facebook’s own Transparency Report the amount of content it took down in Vietnam rose 500 per cent in the second half of 2018.

By John Reed - The Financial Times - June 12, 2019