Vietnamese minister calls for local tech firms to challenge Google and Facebook

The minister wants a digital ecosystem with made-in-Vietnam social media networks and search engines.

Photo by Matthew Nolan on Unsplash Photo by Matthew Nolan on Unsplash

Vietnam needs to build its own digital ecosystem where made-in-Vietnam social media networks and search engines can compete with Facebook and Google, Minister of Information and Communications Nguyen Manh Hung said at a recent meeting with the tech community in Ho Chi Minh City.

A similar rhetoric has been heard all across Southeast Asia, where countries are trying to find ways to counter the dominance of US tech giants and prevent them from hoovering up large chunks of digital advertising revenues.

For the Vietnamese Minister, it’s not the first time he’s emphasizing the need for Vietnam to have local alternatives to Google and Facebook. The government has been battling with the tech giants over “toxic content.” Part of the Vietnamese Government’s desire to control Facebook and Google has to do with wanting more oversight of the type of content these two platforms share. Vietnam’s definition of toxic content includes anti-government propaganda, fake news, and content that incites violence or undermine “national traditions and customs.”

Taking on the big boys

At that meeting in Ho Chi Minh City, as reported by local media, Minister Hung stressed that social media networks must respect “basic moral values of people” and the laws in each country. He went on to add that search engines have become too “commercialized,” making it difficult for users to believe in them as trustworthy sources of knowledge.

The Minister added that local tech firms, especially startups, have the opportunity to develop made-in-Vietnam digital solutions for Vietnamese users in and outside the country.

For years, Facebook and Google have enjoyed dominant positions in Vietnam both in terms of users and ad revenues. Facebook is still king in Vietnam, accounting for nearly half of all social media usage. Vietnam is also among the five biggest global markets for Youtube. However, neither of the two companies have set up permanent business entities in Vietnam.

According to Southeast Asian digital marketing agency ANTS, about 70% of Vietnam’s digital advertising revenue goes to Google and Facebook. The firm also predicts that by 2020, Vietnam’s digital advertising spending is projected to reach USD 760 million and more than USD 512 million will go to the two tech behemoths.

Despite not at the level of popularity among local users in comparison to Facebook and Google, there has been some success experienced by local tech companies to build made-in-Vietnam social media platforms, such as Zalo from Vietnam’s only unicorn VNG and Mocha developed by Viettel.

According to statistics from the Ministry of Information and Communications, Zalo has nearly 50 million users a month and Moca has about 4.8 million users. Vietnam also has a home-grown browser and search engine called Coc Coc, which has localized features specific to the Vietnamese language and claims to have about 24 million monthly active users.