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New national strategy sought to root out data pitfalls

How to protect personal data has been raised by local experts as one of the biggest issues to tackle as digital transformation becomes an increasing priority in Vietnam. 



New national strategy sought to root out data pitfalls, illustration photo


Addressing a workshop in Hanoi last week, deputy country director of Oxfam Vietnam Pham Quang Tu called for a national strategy for data protection. “It’s vitally important to protect personal data and privacy. This will ensure efficient exploration and protection of civil data and privacy as well as personal rights,” Tu said at the event.

According to data published by the Vietnam Competition and Consumer Authority (VCCA) under the Ministry of Information and Communications, nearly one-third of the total number of complaints is now related to debt through phone calls even if the caller has not borrowed any cash.

Huynh Nguyen Anh Duong, a 27-year-old office clerk in Hanoi’s Ba Dinh district VIR, “Websites regularly require users like me to register accounts to get permission to utilise them. Therefore, I provide my personal information even if I only access some sites once in a year. I receive a lot of calls from real estate brokerage firms that have already grasped much information about me although I have never contacted them before.”

Duong’s case partially reflects the popularisation of data sharing in Vietnam. In recent times, personal data has been put on sale at rock-bottom prices. The operator of data seller told VIR that the data of 60,000 people can sell for around VND2.5 million ($110).

Speaking at last week’s workshop Nguyen Tien Lap, senior executive partner of NHQuang&Associates, said it is hard to determine and handle violations related to users’ privacy in this country. Laws have yet to clarify sanctions for revealing personal data without users’ permission. That has contributed to a wider gap in the legal framework as personal data has been exploited as a new resource in the age of digital transformation.

“It is necessary to outline the codes stipulating how much individual information is allowed to be exploited, and also specific sanctions for the cases stealing deeper data for their own purposes,” said Lap.

Even though social media sites like Facebook have strict data-sharing agreements that users may or may not read before accepting, the 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal nevertheless roused awareness of the role their personal data. The personal information of more than 87 million Facebook users was utilised for games and applications related to data exploitation group Cambridge Analytica. About 400,000 of the 87 million users involved were Vietnamese.

At the time Viviane Reding, member of the European Parliament said, “Facebook is free but we have to pay with our own information.”

The information often includes date of birth, email address, home address, ID number, and phone number, among others. Sellers and data miners collect the data from Facebook accounts or many other websites to profit from them in one way or another.

Holding billions of users globally, Facebook uses information to earn great advertising income. According to German market research firm Statista, Facebook last year saw nearly $70.7 billion in revenue with about 2.6 billion users across the globe.

By understanding the hobbies, characters, and even political tendency of users, Facebook and other social networking sites can more easily target appropriate advertisements to them, making them attractive to businesses.

According to the Ministry of Public Security (MoPS), collecting and putting personal information on sale is encroaching user privacy, which should be sanctioned under criminal penalties. In fact, many other countries already outlaw this.

According to Article 159 of the Criminal Code, a person who appropriates another person’s mail, faxes, or other documents transmitted on the postal or telecommunications network in any shape or form shall receive a warning, be liable to a fine of VND20-50 million ($870-2175), or face a penalty of up to three years’ community sentence.

Meanwhile, Article 288 also stipulates that illegal provision or use of information on computer networks or telecommunication networks will be applied the highest sanction of seven years’ imprisonment.

However, applying these penalties is a rather complicated procedure as many of the data-collecting companies are situated in other countries and boast extensive terms and conditions that are often hard to understand for many users.

Despite the increase in awareness, regular online users are often still clumsy with the management of their personal data and do not just fall victim to data mining firms that often operate in legal grey areas but also to more targeted – and clearly illegal – approaches by groups that take advantage by tricking them into downloading questionable files that track a user’s behaviour and input.

Last month, spyware penetrated mobile phones and stole the personal data of hundreds of Vietnamese. Experts said the VN84App spyware was distributed via faked official websites, one of which mimicked the MoPS’ website. When successfully installed, the app collected messages and phone numbers. VIR

An Nhien

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