The news this week that Vietnam is thinking about regulating free chat services like Whatsapp and Line, and perhaps banning them, may seem like yet another Big Brother government oppressing its people -- which is true. But these free chat services also pose a threat to purported democracies like the United Kingdom and United States, both of which have been caught broadly spying on their citizens and, in the United Kingdom, harrassing the family of a reporter covering the Edward Snowden leaks. They threaten the big telcos, as well, both the private enterprises in more economically liberal countries and the state properties in more controlled economies.
It's an odd situation: Companies banking on free services to attract millions of customers in hopes of making money on them through an as-yet-to-be-deternined method -- the basic dot-com business model -- are, in the process, threatening both governments and old-line telcos.
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Governments are threatened because traffic taking place on nontraditional communications platforms can be harder to monitor; if it wants to spy on its citizens or block their speech, the government has to work harder to do so. Meanwhile, the telcos face an economic threat: If you're using WeChat, Whatsapp, Line, Viber, iMessage, or the like, you're not paying the carriers' obscene SMS charges, and that's real money. Carriers are very threatened, and a whole industry exists to advise them on getting that money back by blocking, taking over, or emulating the private chat providers (called OTT, or over-the-top, providers in telco parlance).