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Towards the digital future: Striking the balance between protection and growth


DATA is the four-letter word that fuels our digitised world. Harnessing the power of these simple four characters, we have the ability to revolutionise global business exchange, innovation, trade and education, to name just a few.

The collection, processing, transmission, storage, sharing and creation of data already underpin almost everything we do today. Last year, the digital economy accounted for 22 per cent of global economic output, while the application of digital technologies – such as cloud computing, data analytics, and the Internet of Things – is set to increase global gross domestic product by US$2 trillion by 2020.

In particular, Asia is reaping the benefits of data, with mobile technology contributing 15 million new jobs, 5.4 per cent of regional GDP and around $1.3 trillion of economic value in 2015 alone.

However, the social impact of data and mobile technology is even greater. Today, 45 per cent of Asians have access to the mobile Internet, and by 2020, an additional 800 million people will be able to shop, listen to music, access information, upload selfies, and do other online activities made possible by data-fuelled mobile and digital technology.

Add to that the billions of machines expected to become connected in the next decade through the Internet of Things.

The heart of this digital transformation has largely been powered by a strong stream of information across national borders via mobile technology and the Internet.

While the advances in technology have enabled a consumer in Malaysia to purchase a product from a company in the United States, this flow of data comes with the responsibility to protect consumers’ privacy and security as well as business’ data. This is rightly so and echoed in a 2015 Telenor global privacy survey, where nine out of 10 Asian customers say that transparency and control are important features for their willingness to share data.

Data’s delicate and crucial balance

To this end, we are faced with a challenge: balancing the need for adequate data privacy, security and protection with the economic and social needs to drive growth and innovation through data. While customers are rightfully mindful of their privacy, they also see value in more personalised services and applications. Almost eight out of 10 Asians want apps to be tailored to their specific needs and 70 per cent are willing to share personal data for tailoring.

As a global provider of connectivity and digital services, Telenor understands the challenge intimately from both sides. It understands the protection of personal, corporate and sensitive data is of utmost importance to governments and businesses. We at Telenor also recognise the regulations needed to ensure data protection and privacy give consumers the confidence to continue leveraging the internet for growth.

Successfully striking this balance is crucial for us all. Balance can provide 2.5 billion people who currently do not use a bank with access to financial services via a smartphone. Balance can further power innovation within the dynamically expanding Asian ecosystem that has more than 7,000 start-ups. Balance can help well-established companies like Telenor, with presence in 13 diverse markets, continue sharing and scaling their footprint across |markets.

Asia’s data dilemma

While we believe governments should implement regulations to ensure the protection and privacy of all data, it is important that regulators and other stakeholders analyse the full context of the free flow of data. The ability to store, transmit, and use information is the source of economic and social value created by the digital economy.

Restrictions that range from data localisation (the requirement to store data on servers within the country where the data is produced) to restrictions on the types of data that can be shared across borders or, in some cases, a complete ban on data flows out of the country can hamper Asia’s continued social and economic development.

With digital technologies driving business growth and innovation, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises, such restrictions on data flow will only increase the burden on businesses and consumers. The global nature of today’s business environment means companies will incur higher costs from the need to store data locally in every country, and from investing resources to comply with different market regulations.

These higher barriers to entry in turn also serve to disincentivise companies from competing, and even innovating. The cost of this data restriction ultimately will be borne by consumers in the form of lost opportunities, services and improvements to their livelihoods.

Protection, growth both necessary

As we see it, the way forward requires collaboration, standardisation and vision. With digitisation expected to deliver $100 trillion in value to businesses and societies by 2025, there is a lot at stake.

This is a complex matter that encompasses consumer protection, competition regulation, privacy and data protection, security and law enforcement, and even taxation. Too little protection and regulation make consumers and businesses more vulnerable to cyber threats; too much would throttle invention and growth needed for the world’s economic and social development.

Collaboration must occur between policymakers, telecommunication companies and other digital-economy stakeholders to evaluate current and potential new data protection, security and privacy regulations.

With such a framework, the ability for us collectively to build a digitally inclusive Asia where all people have equal access to opportunities for personal and professional development is much more achievable. In this envisaged Asia, digital and mobile technologies founded on the free flow of data will continue to drive us forward in ways we never dreamed possible.

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