Towards a digital future: Striking balance between privacy and growth

Data is the four-letter word that fuels our digitized world. By harnessing the power of these simple four characters, we will gain the ability to revolutionize global business exchange, innovation, trade and education, to name just a few.

Data is the four-letter word that fuels our digitized world. By harnessing the power of these simple four characters, we will gain the ability to revolutionize global business exchange, innovation, trade and education, to name just a few.

Data’s downpour in the era of digital revolution
The collection, processing, transmission, storage, sharing and creation of data already underpin almost everything we do today. In 2016, the digital economy accounted for 22% of global economic output and the application of digital technologies – such as cloud computing, data analytics, and the Internet of Things – is set to increase the global GDP by US$2 trillion by 2020. According to a report by Zinnov, technologies such as Internet of Things will generate around 25,000 job opportunities in India during the next five years, by 2021. The Indian domestic market contributes $1.6 billion to the overall IoT market, the report said and this is further expected to grow to $3.8 billion in the next five years.

The social impact of data and mobile technology is even greater. According to a report by BCG & IAMAI, mobile phones would be the primary mode of internet access for 70-80 per cent of the users by 2018 and 40-50 per cent of overall internet usage will come from rural India. 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 consumers in India to purchase products from any part of the world, it is important to note that this flow of data comes with the responsibility to protect the privacy and security of consumer as well as business data. This is also echoed in the Telenor Global Privacy Survey 2015 where 9 out of 10 Asian customers say that transparency and control are important features for their willingness to share data. In India, 64% of the consumers are concerned about their privacy.

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 personalized services and applications. According to Telenor’s Global Privacy Survey, almost 8 out of 10 Asians want apps to be tailored to their specific needs and 70% are willing to share personal data for tailoring.

As a global provider of connectivity and digital services, we understand the challenge intimately from both sides. We understand the protection of personal, corporate and sensitive data is of utmost importance to governments and businesses. We 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. It can help us deliver on services such as financial services via a smartphone to 2.5 billion people who currently do not use a bank. It can further power innovation within the dynamically expanding start-ups ecosystem in the region. Balance can help well-established companies like Telenor, with presence in 13 diverse markets, continue sharing and scaling their footprint across markets.

The common data dilemma

While we believe government should implement regulations to ensure 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 localization (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 India’s continued social and economic development.

With digital technologies driving business growth and innovation, especially for small and medium 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 disincentive 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 and growth are both necessary
As we see it, the way forward requires collaboration, standardisation and vision. According to the World Economic Forum, 2016, digitalization is expected to deliver US$100 trillion in value to businesses and societies by 2025 and 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.

What also needs to be looked at is sensitizing customers to be more careful with their digital assets and making them aware of the repercussions on ignoring security set ups while being active on digital channels. The biggest leap towards digital economy would be setting up an apex body that can be approached in-case of any threats or breach being faced by customers for quicker resolutions and also ensuring protection of personal information. This would fuel confidence and trust of the people of this country and make them more active in this digital journey.

Collaboration must occur between policy makers, telcos 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 to collectively build a digitally inclusive Asia where all people have equal access to opportunities for personal and professional development is much more achievable.  In this envisioned Asia, digital and mobile technologies founded on the free flow of data will continue to drive us forward in ways we never dreamed possible.
The writer is chief executive officer, Telenor (India) Communications

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