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Why the U.S. Embassy has an account on a Vietnamese pirate hub

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Across the world, the United States government is an enthusiastic anti-pirate warrior. Just ask streaming site First Row Sports, shut down in February by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or Kim Dotcom, the doughy multi-millionaire and wannabe rapper whose site, Megaupload, got shuttered by the FBI in January, and who was arrested in a New Zealand special forces raid at the behest of the U.S. government.

But in Vietnam, the United States is keeping its copyright enemies close. Zing, the country’s sixth most popular website and top social networking hub, is also the recording industry’s “public enemy number one,” thanks to its high-volume pirating operation. It’s like a love child of the Pirate Bay and Facebook. And the United States Embassy in Vietnam runs a very lively account.

That’s making some people in Vietnam and elsewhere angry. Locals blame Zing for destroying the domestic record industry; foreign groups like the Recording Industry Association of America blame it for huge volumes of international copyright theft. Both Samsung and Coke have withdrawn from the service. But not the embassy, whose account has more than 18,000 followers.

"There were few spaces for public discourse and intermittent access to Facebook,” the embassy said in a statement. In other words, if the U.S. wants to engage with Vietnam’s young and tech-savvy Internet population, it has little choice but to go on Zing.

In an attempt to ameliorate the controversy, the embassy has resorted to posting almost exclusively about piracy on its account. Here are a few examples we’ve run through Google translate (and cleaned up a little):

Who is your favorite singer? What do you usually do to help them protect their work?

Do you use a peer-to-peer file-sharing program? Are you afraid your computer may be infected with viruses when using this program? What file types do you usually share with friends through this program?

Do you read ebooks? If so,  do you often buy them online? If not, why? (payment difficulties, expensive ...?)

For the time-being, those toothless questions will have to suffice. Zing’s illegal content isn’t going anywhere until it’s big enough that it doesn’t have to rely on pirating traffic. As one tech executive told the Associated Press: "In Vietnam, you build an audience first, and then you negotiate.”

Photo by dalbera/Flickr