Thai Internet Regulation May Curtail Its Economic Potential

By: Qichen Zhang on 19 September 2011

Giant Internet companies spoke out this week about what they see as an ongoing and "dangerous" development for the Thailand Internet economy. Four years ago, the Thai government introduced Internet monitoring laws to combat fraud. But opponents of the heightened regulation now say that the original legal implementations have now turned for the worst toward policing the web for political content, including opinions in opposition to the Thai Royal Family.

Investors of Google, Yahoo, and eBay are primarily concerned for the economic potential of e-commerce ventures in the country. Thailand is Southeast Asia's second-largest economy, and Thais have recently turned to the digital space for grocery shopping and other commercial activities. Multinational companies who operate there had this to say about the increase in online censorship:

By holding an intermediary liable for the actions of its users, this case could set a dangerous precedent and have a significant long-term impact on Thailand’s economy. It could also end up denying Thai Internet users access to many of the online services they use everyday.

Thailand has received critical attention from freedom of expression activists. Although Human Rights Watch granted a Hellman-Hammett Grant that provides financial aid to political persecution victims to a Thai webmaster last week, openness of online communication and expression is still very much a rarity on Thailand's web. Grant recipient Chiranuch Premchaiyaporn remarked on what she sees as necessary changes to the Internet in her native country:

Limited freedom is like inadequate air to breathe and will be a timely warning for society to learn and overcome the situation peacefully.

More people will shift their attention to the southeast Asian country as its economic potential, especially in the Internet sector, grows. Google just opened its first Thailand office in August. But American companies aren't the only ones who are venturing into Thailand for great opportunities. PCWorld recently reported that China's Baidu has launched two websites for users in Thailand in its expansion efforts.