The GSMA Mobile 360 Series – Digital Societies conference in Bangkok, held from 5 to 7 September 2018, brought governments and mobile operators together to address the digital world. The critical role of cross-border data flows in the digital economy was a key theme throughout; not only vital for technology development in artificial intelligence, machine learning and autonomous vehicles, but it can facilitate societal services, such as a healthcare, through its accurate predictive abilities. The event also highlighted some governmental and industry concerns stemming from digital economies.
Governments in the APAC region diverge in terms of their understandings of the digital economy. There is a pervasive myth, for example, that data stored overseas cannot be accessed by national regulators. This feeds into privacy and security concerns, both for government and citizen data. As such, future discussions need to be tailored to debunking these myths and addressing legitimate concerns.
Members of the public are also concerned with the use of their data by corporations. As a result, digital firms have adopted a consumer-centred approach to new business operations. Microsoft said it best when it declared that “the biggest problem corporations face today is not competition, it is protecting consumer rights”. Digital firms at the event shared their internal processes to accord the necessary protection for their consumers and secure trust. For example, Microsoft’s principled approach for its AI initiative is based on fairness, reliability and safety, privacy and security, inclusiveness, transparency, and accountability. Meanwhile, Axiata is developing its own “Digital Trust Mark” – an internal process whereby privacy policies are designed based on consumer attitudes towards privacy and trust.
This asymmetry in understanding and approaches can be resolved through multilateral cooperation. Indeed, the similarities between the ASEAN and APEC privacy frameworks encourage cross-border data flow between member economies. The existence of a regional approach to digital services can help resolve national concerns. GSMA’s Regional Privacy Frameworks and Cross-Border Data Flow report, produced with Access Partnership, provides an in-depth analysis of these frameworks.
By promoting cross-border data flow, regional frameworks encourage the expansion of SMEs by providing the later with access to data and digital services, such as cloud. SMEs have a vital role in the APAC economy, for example, in Myanmar 98% of the organisations are SMEs, which account for 85% of local employment. As players in the digital economy, SMEs have the opportunity to become more competitive, more productive, and expand their operations beyond national borders.
Privacy and security are two critical pillars in the discussion surrounding digital economies and services. By addressing any government, citizen, and industry concerns, stakeholders can align their interests, promote cross-border data flow, and encourage technology investment.
Author: Seha Yatim, Policy Analyst, Access Partnership