Vietnam launches own social network site

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The Independent Online

Vietnam's communist government has launched its own social networking site, after allegations that it restricted Facebook and hacked numerous websites with political content.

A pilot version of the go.vn site (www.goonline.vn) was launched Wednesday and is the country's biggest-ever IT project, a notice on the website said.

"Several people said I ordered the launching of the Vietnamese network to eliminate others like Google or Yahoo. It's not true," Minister of Information and Communication Le Doan Hop said in comments posted on the site.

"We are ready to have clean competition. People will come to places where there is culture, value and benefits."

The government says about 25 percent of Vietnam's population use the Internet, and a top United Nations communications official said last year that the country's development of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) - including mobile and fixed-line telephones as well as Internet and broadband - was outpacing other Asian nations.

A variety of content from the political to the risque has flourished in Vietnamese cyberspace because traditional media are all linked to the state.

Western donors said in December that Vietnam's restrictions on news media and websites such as Facebook threatened the country's rapid economic progress.

Vietnamese users of Facebook, the world's most popular social networking website, continue to say they must use alternative means to access it.

The slick-looking go.vn website on Thursday featured celebrity and lifestyle news, much of it from overseas, as well as links to games, music, email, nightclubs and other activities.

The front page carried historical briefings about founding president Ho Chi Minh, the April 30, 1975 communist victory in Saigon, and legendary General Vo Nguyen Giap.

Go.vn can serve more than four million users at once, and aims to attract up to 50 percent of social network users by 2015, Hop said.

Some Facebook users dismissed the new network as a Facebook imitator. One said Facebook will have to be blocked for go.vn to reach its user targets.

"Go will go away," said another posting.

Vietnam last month rejected accusations by US-based Internet giant Google that Vietnamese computer users have been spied on and political blogs hacked into.

Perpetrators of the Vietnamese attacks "may have political motivations and may have some allegiance to the government", George Kurtz, the chief technology officer of major Internet security firm McAfee, wrote in late March.

A Western diplomat told AFP that about 25 websites which included political content had been hacked in the first three months of the year. He had no doubt authorities were behind the attacks.

The government appears to have set up go.vn for people just interested in networking on "non-sensitive issues, as an alternative to Facebook that has been used for other purposes", a second Western diplomat said Thursday.

Hop did not give the cost of the website, which he said must be a "trustworthy address" for net users and a rich source of knowledge.

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