Yahoo! has joined other big internet names to protest at the Singapore Government's moves against news websites. Photo: Reuters
Singapore's move to tighten regulation of news web sites, already under fire from bloggers and human rights groups, has attracted criticism from an unexpected quarter - large internet firms with a big presence in the city-state who say the new rules will hurt the industry.
Web giants Facebook, eBay, Google and Yahoo! have said the revised rules "have negatively impacted Singapore's global image as an open and business-friendly country".
The comments, made in a letter to Singapore's minister of communications and information by the Asia Internet Coalition, an industry body, are the first sign that Singapore's success in wooing major players to its shores is not assured. Google, eBay, Facebook and Yahoo all have a major presence in the city-state.
Google said separately it was concerned about the long-term implications of the regulation - especially for local internet entrepreneurs who it said now faced greater uncertainty and legal risk.
In late May, Singapore said websites that regularly report on Singapore would have to be licensed and listed 10 news sites that would be affected, based on criteria such as having 50,000 unique visitors from Singapore each month.
Websites affected by the new licensing regime would have to put up a $S50,000 ($43,100) performance bond as well as take down within 24 hours any story that authorities deemed objectionable.
"Singapore aims to be the future, but this regulation looks a lot like the past," Google's Ann Lavin, director of public policy and government affairs, Southeast Asia, told Reuters.
The Media Development Authority (MDA) said the changes would make the rules governing news websites more consistent with those affecting newspapers and other traditional media platforms. But it has stressed there was no change in its content standards.
"The new licensing framework is not intended to clamp down on Internet freedom," an MDA spokesman said in a written response to questions.
The Asia Internet Coalition was (AIC) set up in 2011 by Google, Facebook, Yahoo and eBay to lobby for free and open access to the Internet and promote e-commerce.
The Internet and related industries have become an important sector for Singapore, with revenues last year growing 23 per cent to $S103 billion. The sector employs more than 144,000 people out of the city-state's 3.2 million workforce, according to government data.
Sign up for Computerworld eNewsletters.