A TV commercial for free call and texting application Zalo. Photo courtesy of Tuoi Tre
Applications for making free calls and messages have made their way into many smartphones in Vietnam, but digital experts warn that owners should be wary of viruses and spy programs that could come along.
Vietnam's leading Internet content provider VNG is pouring money into advertising Zalo, while other apps such like "Kakao Talk" of South Korea or "Line" of Japan are also promoted widely in Vietnam. The applications have been referred to as over-the-top ones as they do not come from the traditional telcos or Internet service providers, and thus ride on top of that Internet connection.
Representatives of digital firms said the investments into apps for free calls and messages are biggest so far for smartphones and tablets.
Zalo is appearing on all media across the country, and an unidentified source from VNG told Tuoi Tre the company has spent at least US$500,000 promoting it.
Three Vietnamese engineers Nguyen Thanh Hoa, Nguyen Quoc Minh and Pham Dinh Quoc Hung, data processing graduates, are about to launch a made-in-Vietnam app called Wala, which is already installed on smartphones of Vietnamese cell phone maker Mobiistar.
The investors said they are providing the apps for free to build as large a customer base as they can, and then find ways to make money through follow-up programs.
Nguyen Quoc Minh, board chairman of Wala Company that owns the app, said, "Once the providers control the market, they can deploy other services through the app to take money, like putting up advertisements or games and music."
Digital experts said customers can remove the applications if they do not like them, but the easy download already exposes them to security risks.
Nguyen Khoa Hong Thanh, deputy director of the Emerald digital marketing agency, said, "Either you close your doors with all applications, or you use them smartly."
"I saw many people keep pressing "OK" or "Next" to get it over with when installing an app. They pay no attention to the usage agreement, or possible services that can come along with the app.
In doing so they are totally putting themselves at risk of receiving spy viruses or having personal information stolen," Thanh told Tuoi Tre.
Vo Do Thang, director of Internet security and training center Athena, also said free smartphone applications can be downloaded from different sources where hackers can attach virus codes or spy programs into the download links.
"Then the devices that download the apps will be controlled remotely. Phone calls can be overheard and data can be stolen," Thang said. "There are more people using smart devices but they have little knowledge of Internet security, so hacking through apps has increased."
Thanh Hoa, director of Wala, also said there are reasons for people to worry about their information security. Once people's calls and messages were only known to telecommunication providers that are mostly under government control. Now the information is also known to digital companies providing the free call and texting apps, Hoa said. "The providers can use the information for good or bad purposes."
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