Once again many internet users in Vietnam are unable to access Facebook and Blogspot. A number of other websites may be inaccessible at this time as well. It is a big hinderance especially those of us that rely on Facebook to keep in touch with friends and family back home. As usual, rumors are flying about another internet upgrade. If that was the case, though, why are the majority of other websites, including Twitter, still accessible.
There is a big difference between this “inaccessibility” versus other times. Normally the first thing I do is do a traceroute and ping (using mtr) of facebook.com which results in a huge packet loss with an IP address originating in Hanoi. This time around, I am getting 15 hops to facebook.com with zero packet loss. I then emailed a couple friends suspecting that Vietnam may be traffic shaping, instead of filtering or blocking, for the very first time. One of them suggested that I use tcptraceroute on port 80 to facebook.com and sure enough, users in Vietnam will be unable to access Facebook from Vietnam on that particular port (Notice that users in Vietnam can still access Facebook on mobile or browser apps since they use different ports).
So in short, Facebook and Blogspot are not blocked in Vietnam, they are being traffic shaped. For me, I think this is quite funny because Vietnam can honestly say that they are not blocking websites. They are not, really great strategy and guess what, this is even done in Western countries. In the US, Comcast was accused may times by their customers of traffic shaping in the past though it may be illegal to do so now. Schools, universities, companies, etc., may also traffic shape as well. It is a form of traffic policing, in a nutshell.
So how to get past this while you are in Vietnam?
Quite simple, just use a VPN. I current use VPNVIP and pay roughly $4 US for a 5 GB data plan. You can purchase this from the App store if you area an Apple user. StrongVPN is another popular one if you do not have access to the App Store. I use the same account for both my iPad and Macbook Pro. For those of you who regularly use WiFi at coffeeshops should be using a VPN anyway for protection.
Reasons to restrict access to Facebook in Vietnam?
Last summer I had a discussion with a former director from one of the large Vietnamese government owned IT company. His response was not surprising. Facebook is not a registered company in Vietnam yet they are making money from advertisements focusing on Vietnamese users within Vietnam. In short, they are not paying their taxes in Vietnam. Google was mentioned as another company that does not have a legal registered office in Vietnam making money from Vietnamese-focussed advertisements. What I heard was that 2012 was going to be the year to force these companies to abide by Vietnamese laws. It looks like it is starting.
It makes you wonder if the Mark Zuckerburg trip to Vietnam may have played a role in initiating this traffic policing in Vietnam.
Edit 1: Urko gave his comments on saying this is not traffic shaping but just port blocking: https://plus.google.com/u/0/117883371271673786109/posts/BWyLnQGkGAL
Edit 2: Other users are having problems accessing Facebook on their mobile phones now.