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Facebook agreed to censor posts after Vietnam slowed traffic – sources (reuters.com)
235 points by Longprao 45 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 93 comments

Just tangentially related to the topic at hand, but I have a question to ask HN. The main trans-Pacific cable connection between Vietnam and the US tends to be damaged several times a year (3<n<10 is my guess), which severely slow downs any connection to the outside of Vietnam during the time it is under maintenance. This always happens suspiciously during major political holiday (Independence day and the likes), so Vietnamese has just assumed that is a blatant censorship attempt. The wiki page has an outage section you can read: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asia-America_Gateway , it doesn't list anything beyond 2018, but the situation is the same.

So my question is, how likely it is that the cable system are just really shitty? Or is the assumption of bald-faced censorship correct?

Undersea cable is pretty unreliable. Most major cables expect to break every few years.

Usually breaks are caused by humans (ships pulling anchors, sabotage/spying). Sometimes they're natural (caused by wildlife, ocean floor movement, flaws in the cable design).

Fixes usually take a few hours if they happen at the endpoints, or weeks if they happen somewhere under the ocean.

Interestingly, spying breaks always involve three simultaneous breaks in the cable. The cable is broken at two points, and then broken at a third point in the middle to put spy equipment. They do this so the people operating the cable can't tell where the spy equipment was inserted, since otherwise you can tell where a cable is broken or being tampered with by sending light down the cable and seeing how long before light reflects off the broken bit and comes back to the end.

Using statistical methods, you can see how frequently you'd expect a cable to break at different points along it's length simultaneously, and it happens a lot more than raw chance would suggest.

>"Undersea cable is pretty unreliable."

This is not true. Submarine cable installations generally have a lifespan of 20-25 years although that's even being extended now to 30 years with advances in WDM gear. Also in water deeper than 1500 meters the cables are typically laid on the ocean floor. This is done because it is beyond the limit of trawl fishing anchors.

>"Interestingly, spying breaks always involve three simultaneous breaks in the cable. The cable is broken at two points, and then broken at a third point in the middle to put spy equipment."

Yeah this is not true at all. Where did you get this from? Fiber cables can be tapped by simply adding a bend radius to the cable which allows it to leak. [1], Further you can shoot a light down both ends of a fiber and easily discern that there is more than one break in the cable.

[1] https://www.thefoa.org/tech/ref/appln/tap-fiber.html

> since otherwise you can tell where a cable is broken or being tampered with by sending light down the cable and seeing how long before light reflects off the broken bit and comes back to the end.

IIRC at BSidesLV last year there was a vendor selling optical splicing modules which were rather difficult to detect using this technique.

I was under the impression that underwater cables were fairly reliable, but it seems they require frequent repair.

Per wikipedia: > Still, cable breaks are by no means a thing of the past, with more than 50 repairs a year in the Atlantic alone,[48] and significant breaks in 2006, 2008, and 2009.

> caused by wildlife

Can you further explain this part? It sounds so out there with undersea cable.

The only thing I can think of is that wildfire cause erosion in soil which wash off into the sea and damage the end point?

Wildlife, not wildfire!

Things like a whale getting entangled in it, and then using all its strength to get free, breaking the cable.

I don't see how a whale would get caught in a cable that's laying on the ocean floor. They don't float.

When the cable goes over mountain ranges and cliffs and valleys on the ocean floor, it can end up thousands of feet from the bottom sometimes.

You appear to just be making stuff up.

Submarine cable is buried when it's at depths of 2000 Meters or less. It is done so using jet-plow technology. Beyond depths of 2000 meters the cable simply sinks to floor and rests there. It most certainly does not hang across a valley the way high tension power lines do above ground. Also cable routes are carefully planned to avoid trenches wherever possible. Where that's not possible it's simply sunk by its' own weight down to the ocean floor.

Think of shark biting at cable, etc. Remember these cables just sit on top of the ocean floor.

Do you know how thick these submarine cables are?

Most importantly, once a shark gnaws at the cable, various waterproofing and weatherproofing layers get broken, and seawater goes deep inside the cable, then corrosion happens, breaking things further...

The cable is absurdly thick and absurdly armored only in shallow waters near the landing point (ie. where it is expected to be affected by stuff like boat anchors). In open ocean the cable is actually surprisingly thin for how robust it is.

there are videos out there, sharks like to bite those cables

Isn't it heavily depending on the location of the cable?

I'd expect cables in shallow water in fishing areas to be broken more often than deep floating cables in the middle of the Atlantic.

Do you have any references about these spying breaks? This is the first I've heard of it and it is fascinating.


I've never heard that they break the cables, but rather "bend" them so that light leaks out of the fibre.

It seems that'd be pretty easy to do that with, e.g., a few strands of SMF running across a datacenter, but I'd imagine it's a bit more difficult to "bend" a bundle of, say, 144 strands that are encased in a few inches of copper and steel, no?

What's the point of spying on traffic you can't read?

Metadata is incredibly useful in its own right, and spy agencies regularly record huge amounts of data in the hope that they can decrypt it in the future.

Even if you can’t read a single packet, noting a surge in bandwidth utilisation is a signal in and of itself. But you probably can read the headers.

Maybe the NSA can decrypt RSA or Diffie-Hellman. We don’t know. Maybe they save it for when they’ll get the keys. Another way is to saturate so much the network with spy equipment that it’s futile to search and remove it.

Plenty of unencrypted traffic still around - connections between datacentres via dedicated fibers, phone calls, SMS messages, e-mails....

"We kill people based on metadata."

-- Gen. Michael Hayden (retired), former Director of both the CIA and NSA.

"Ssl added and removed here".

Not everyone treats long haul as secure until they learn the hard way. Few are big enough to find out.

Plot twist: Fishermen are purposefully collecting underwater cables and selling them for scrape.


Of course there are also accidental breakages and other things. That is to say there are many root causes, not necessarily intuitive.

> Most of the outages have been located at the intra-Asia segments between Hong Kong and Singapore, with most problems occurring in the Vietnam section, while the segment between Hong Kong and the Philippines seems to have fewer problems. The segments between the Philippines and the United States are quite stable.

If you can go thousands of miles across the Pacific and be "quite stable", and a shallower, shorter run through similar ocean floor and ship traffic conditions between HK and the Philippines suffers fewer outages than one to Vietnam, yeah, censorship seems like a pretty reasonable conclusion.

Hong Kong has a large financial sector. IIRC, Vietnam did not have a derivatives market until a few years ago, and a few months in only had $20 million in trading volume.

Which country's independence day/holidays?

Imagine if your job is to drive the tractor on the beach that would "chop" the cable up once or twice every year...

Vietnam has an Independence day, and a National Day, which are the two holidays that always get the outages.

What better way to celebrate independence than to cut the cord to the rest of the world!

"State media at the time blamed the slowdown on maintenance to undersea cables, and state telecoms firms apologized for unstable access to Facebook."

I have Viettel fiber and I very rarely feel the effects of cable disruptions. Most times I wouldn't even notice until someone complains about it on an expat or neighborhood group.

This is less the case for people using other providers.

They throttle the throughout on evening. Checked the internet at night and day is literally night vs. day where the internet goes down to Kbps but at morning goes up to 100Mbps normally. It's totally bullshit.


This is silly, the internet at night is slow simply because there are too many people are using it at the same time. Bandwidth is not limitless, and they are shared for the same neighborhood.

Also, having a 100Mbps internet plan doesn't mean you will be guaranteed to have 100Mbps download/upload all the time. There are reason why in VN companies like netnam and cms are selling 50Mbps leased line for 1000+ dollars.

Higher traffic might take speeds from 100mpbs to 70mpbs. Not 100mpbs to kpbs.

You will get 70mbps for accessing domestic websites. Again, this is just bandwidth issue.

Try to download some highly seeded torrents at the "throttled hours" to see for yourself.

The main issue iirc is that people keep stealing their undersea cabling [1] meaning that their speeds are often significantly reduced.

[1] http://texyt.com/vietnam+internet+cable+stolen+by+thieves+00...

Kind of surprising. I can somehow understand that FB bends under pressure from Chinese government - huge population of a "superpower" country. But Vietnam? It looks as if FB was forced to squeeze every cent of their revenue.

FB might have just opened Pandora's box with all kind of restriction requests coming from all over the World.

Vietnam has a fairly large population and FB is the platform of choice for communication and to a large degree shopping. Small businesses love it.

For anecdotal evidence, I have been ordering food on FB every day for the last month. My wife is watching a life-streaming apparel sale as we speak.

Facebook is truly huge. Several expats I know that had previously quit Facebook have had to unquit because it's so ingrained in society. Checking menus and hours (Facebook pages will be more up to date than google maps entries), messaging to order delivery, live streams for online shopping, finding an apartment, buying motorbikes...

Relating to your small businesses, a lot of them will have their own shippers to save on having to pay the cut from a food delivery app. When I needed a reusable mask after the ones I had were running out at the end of my quarantine, I just messaged a guy who had his online business and an hour later my shipment had arrived (he used an inter-city courier, but you get the point). Somehow being in a city of 8 million makes you feel in more of a community than being in a city of 150k.

I've had a bakery message me to ask if I was in the mood for ordering cupcakes when they still had extra at the end of the day (and I was). A few weeks after a new japanese ramen restaurant told me they only offered take out, they messaged me to tell me that they now offered delivery. It's an amazing channel for businesses to reach their customers.

It's also a really convenient place to get news, because since all news sources are government approved then there's no fake news to worry about. (and by fake news I mean sensationalist stuff, not anything serious relating to politics. I obviously understand the shortcomings with such a system when it relates to criticism of the government)

It's also really nice because you don't have pseudo-science crap on your feed (since sharing that stuff is a fineable offense). Although you still have to watch out for the moms in their Zalo groupchats.

I'm very skeptical of any state that outlaws what they label as pseudoscience or fake news. Odds are that means they're banning some of what I would consider pseudoscience and fake news but sometimes permitting or mandating what I would consider to be other kinds.

For example, imagine the US government as it exists today banning everything they call pseudoscience or fake news. Even if you say it's just "sensationalist stuff" and not political things, I wouldn't trust them to make either distinction.

Hopefully you see that "because since all news sources are government approved then there's no fake news to worry about" is essentially a verbatim line out of any dystopian novel. And with the added context of this article saying the state is refusing to allow Facebook to operate unless they censor posts that criticize the state, the allusion isn't even necessary, since the dystopian aspect is already so incredibly blatant.

"since all news sources are government approved then there's no fake news to worry about."

"you don't have pseudo-science crap on your feed (since sharing that stuff is a fineable offense)"

As a westerner, these phrases give me pause. It sounds like Facebook has become a profitable arm of the surveillance state.

> It's also a really convenient place to get news, because since all news sources are government approved then there's no fake news to worry about. (and by fake news I mean sensationalist stuff, not anything serious relating to politics. I obviously understand the shortcomings with such a system when it relates to criticism of the government)

It's also really nice because you don't have pseudo-science crap on your feed (since sharing that stuff is a fineable offense).

Every single word of that reads like exactly the reasons any media company that wants to maintain their own reputation should pull out of Vietnam and anywhere else that they have to compromise their content.

And post a list of countries that have made requests to remove any content specific to that country.

> It's also a really convenient place to get news, because since all news sources are government approved then there's no fake news to worry about.

Comments like this remind me that totalitarianism doesn't need to be forceful or hostile, implemented by a shadowy government from above. People themselves will often happily serve as salesmen for the regime - with a 0% commission, to boot.

> It's an amazing channel for businesses to reach their customers.

Do you have any insight on how consumers find this? I can imagine it's nice to hear (rarely) from a few places that you care about, but taken too far I think I'd find the mixing of messages from friends and companies pretty annoying.

Would it be more fake news and no one to debate how valid the government approved stories are?

The government of Vietnam has assured everyone that their news is real news. You are fake news.

If you look at the history of Facebook it becomes clear that they don't care about morals at all.

It's just about money, if upholding moralic aspects does profit then through a better image and more trust they will do so. If it doesn't cost them much they might still do so. But the moment it affects their profit they will not do so, through they might pretend they hadn't had a choice or similar.

yeah. they know shareholders will start punishing share price once they set precedent of not backing down under pressure of gov't in larger markets. They've rationalized it by thinking it's not their fight to fight, and that in longer term, freer speech will prevail.

Why wouldn't it? The alternative is to cease operations in that country and lose access to all of its citizens.

Facebook obeys the law everywhere it is enforced. Some laws are better than than others.

Facebook makes essentially 0 profit in poor countries like Vietnam. Their presence there is a more general wanting to be everywhereand have everyone on board to support their users and advertisers in wealthy nations.

Did you read the article?

Vietnam's digital ad market was worth some $550 million in 2018 and 70% of that went to Facebook and Google.

The global digital advertising market is some 240BN and expected to grow to like 500BN by 2024, 550M is an incredibly tiny portion of their overall earnings from digital advertisements. Google's share of that 550M, for instance, would be less than 1% of its revenue from digital ads in 2019. That's not a lot of money for either of those companies.

200 million per year is a lot of money for anyone. Also if the global ad market doubles, wouldn't facebook capture a lot of that? Also how much more is vietnam growing than other countries?

There is no company in the world that will ignore a market offering $1 million daily revenue, more especially in advertising where cost to platform owners like Google and Fb is marginal.

Either reason is a poor excuse to continue to provide service in any country that uses political pressure to modify content.

FB and anyone else requested to remove politically motivated content should leave the country until that practice is stopped, and only resume service as long as no requests are made.

I know money and network effects will win out anyway but that's what I believe will pressure these governments to relent.

I'm a little surprised that people are still surprised about this kind of thing. Various countries, groups, and, probably, individuals have a big say in what you see returned as search results on Google, what's available on YouTube, and more. Until, possibly, very recently, Pakistan had veto power over what Google was allowed to show on YouTube—and not just in Pakistan.


I'm surprised you think people are surprised. Where are people expressing surprise that this sort of activity is going on?

I’m surprised that you’re surprised that I’m surprised that people are still surprised about this kind of thing. Right below your comment (this answers your question “Where...”) is a comment that begins, “Kind of surprising.”

Well, that explains it. I've been using FB on VPN for more than a month until last week. At the time I thought that the outages were due to increased traffic - perhaps they were routing locally and hadn't provisioned enough resources. I wish they didn't buckle.

Internet has been all around wonky in the region lately. I'm in Cambodia but opennet routes through vietnam. Things like S3 buckets getting bps download speeds on the regular connection and jumping to mbps on vpn. Hours versus seconds of download time.

It's easy to be mad at Facebook, but more productive to build an promote alternative to give people better choices.

Why not both?

Attention is a scarce resource

I'm not surprised. They're a publicly traded company with a fiduciary to operate in the shareholder's best interest not be some moral beacon of truth.

Nothing prevents shareholders to pursue ethical goals or at least make an ethical decisions once in a while. Somehow you assume their best interest necessarily is in conflict with morals or truth but I don't see it. Decision to implement unjust ruling is unusual. It's not surprising for Facebook to do so, I agree. But it's not a rule for a publicly traded company by a virtue of fiduciary responsibilities.

If that were the case if being moral was profitable then more companies would be supporting the countless open source projects they use monetarily than just abiding by the literal reading of the GPL and not giving back. How is it moral to build a cloud provider on the backs of open source software and not supporting those devs and teams that make said software as their hobby as just one example.

>more companies would be supporting

Why would any company support free software to begin with? Sounds like shareholders got duped. One wise man once said "They're a publicly traded company with a fiduciary to operate in the shareholder's best interest not be some moral beacon of truth."

>How is it moral to build

Didn't hurt anyone. Built something new. Many people found it useful. More good in the world. Non-zero sum.

I hate that HN allows downvotes for disagreement rather than off-topic or non-sensical commenting. You make a good point. I'm reminded of the movie Avatar, "there’s one thing that shareholders hate more than bad press, and that’s a bad quarterly statement."

I'd imagine the downvotes are because it's a factually inaccurate statement (as I understand it). Duty to maximize profits is a myth, which I think I first heard about here on HN!


Oh dang I stand corrected. My statement could remove the fiduciary part and replace it with human nature and remain correct I think. It’s a basis of economics that the firm seeks to maximize profits where feasible.

This hurts their engineer recruitment in the US - which isn't in the shareholders best interest.

I doubt most shareholders care about that at all. Feeling good vs making money?

> I doubt most shareholders care about that at all. Feeling good vs making money?

You don't see a connection between Facebook's recruitment of engineering talent and Facebook making money? It's almost as if you didn't read my comment.

I read your comment and I disagree. That's a tenuous connection between shareholders caring that a subset of potential FB engineers will not want to work there on moral grounds.

Likewise, there are probably few shareholders who have spent much time actively considering FBs role in Vietnam. Like it or not, FB has to deal with a tight labor market, and things harming their image mean that they have to pay more for the same level of talent. Tech companies are extremely aware of this dynamic, even if their shareholders are less so.

So shareholders are the problem. Gotcha.

That is pure fantasy. If engineers cared about fb doing shady things, fb had already done enough to tilt the scales.

Even if it's small, this will hurt hiring at the margin. I make job/offer selection choices based on considerations like these especially if the pay is comparable, although I have some tolerance for behavior I don't agree with. I'm sure at least some others are the same.

So shareholders are the problem. Let's abolish them and see what else interferes with good ethical choices and fix that and keep going. That's how things get better.

That's infeasible in our economy. Generation of wealth is something that is needed and beneficial to society. Abolishing shareholders is not the answer. Having better politicians (i.e. not corrupt) to reign in capitalist markets to enforce moral behavior would be a better choice.

Shareholding is not required to generate wealth, and it does encourage the disconnect between business activity and responsibility for results.

Politicians will generally follow what the money wants. Making those with a financial stake in the companies responsible is what will remove the gap.

Are you actually trying to say that limited liability is bad

I think I'm leaning toward limited liability enables amoral/unethical behavior. I really would be open to considering extending corporate liability not just to the officers but to shareholders as well.

E.g., if a company is found liable for illegal toxic waste dumping, the company should be fined, the officers that approved / failed to curtail it should be liable, and shareholders should also be penalized... calculating proportions of the cleanup and penalties to assign based on corporate valuation, officers' salaries, and shareholders' stock values.

No doubt the process could get messy but everyone in that chain deserves a share of the blame, for having polluted, and for incentivizing it.

I can see a future where shareholders take an active auditing role in corporate operations to ensure they're not getting hung out to dry.

Vietnam is a complex country. Wikipedia gives more background:

> Vietnam is a unitary Marxist-Leninist one-party socialist republic, one of the two communist states (the other being Laos) in Southeast Asia.


Politically, it's still an autocratic state, but economically the country has opened up to the global market since the 1980's, not unlike China.

> Human rights have long been a matter of much controversy between the Government of Vietnam and some international human rights organizations and Western governments, particularly that of the United States. Under the current constitution, the Communist Party of Vietnam is the only one allowed to rule, the operation of all other political parties being outlawed. Other human rights issues concern freedom of association, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press.


Vietnam is home to several ethnic minorities and a range of religions and beliefs. There haven been frequent regional tensions and uprisings over the past decades and Vietnam itself has also had disputes over borders with Cambodia and China right after the end of the Vietnam War.

Vietnam and Facebook have a rocky past, but Facebook is well embedded in Vietnamese society by now. For instance, it is a bedrock for small business owners as it allows them to escape restrictions which are enforced on street shops. So, it's a source of wealth, but at the same time, it irks authorities enough to create tensions.


So if Facebook pulls out of Vietnam, their economy is likely to suffer because of their own internal politics.

Sounds like another excellent reason to leave the country and refuse to support the regime until actual democracy is in place.

(Of course, you could say that argues that companies should leave the US now as well, but that's another can of worms.)

Facebook doesn't have any requirement to be embedded in society, anywhere. And regardless of its spot benefits anywhere, it is still an overall negative influence.

Good points!

If Facebook pulls out, the general population - not the economic or political elites - will suffer for it.

A political regime based on a framework of democratic values, beliefs and morals can only emerge if there's infrastructure to spread the idea: press, education, common causes and interests and so on are needed before change happens.

Facebook is just one element in that change. There's the narrative that Facebook enabled the Arab Spring uprisings. It did so because it filled the vacuum where free and independent press would exist.

You're right, Facebook doesn't have any requirement to be embedded in society. It's a private company. And one that claims to be anything but a content publisher (to avoid all kinds of pesky litigation). However, everyone has embraced and incorporated Facebook into the fabric of society due to it's ease of use. And so Facebook very much has a moral responsibility similar to that of any newspaper company.

After all, newspapers ranging from NYT to WaPo to the Globe aren't inherently required to publish (inter)nationally. They were originally local newspapers.

The big issue with Facebook is that it has acknowledged that it is as an advertising business, while people clearly want to use it as a publishing platform to spread ideas. There's a massive amount of dissonance to the detriment of everyone, including Facebook which gets a bad rep for it's actions.

Well, Facebook just taught every country in the world how they can be controlled to take down content that country doesn’t like.

Facebook is obligated to follow the laws of the countries its in, or are you saying that country laws don't matter?

Legal isn’t a subset of good. Illegal isn’t a subset of bad. You can be legal and morally bankrupt at the same time.

Facebook could be ethical and have half a billion less dollars or do what they did. Interesting choice that I’m sure isn’t on a slippery slope at all.

They didn't do it to follow Vietnam's laws, they did it because Vietnam was throttling their site.

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