Understanding Data and AI Regulations in Southeast Asia

The Tech for Good Institute highlights key research works in the digital economy in Southeast Asia. Asia Society’s report on Raising Standards on Data and Artificial Intelligence studies existing rules and regulations in the region and offers key recommendations on how the region can leverage technology for an inclusive digital society.

By Priyanka Sahoo, Tech for Good Institute

The World Bank estimates that over the past 15 years, the digital economy has grown 2.5 times faster than global GDP. In Southeast Asia, the digital economy is rapidly growing with the recent e-Conomy report noting that the region has hit $200 billion GMV in 2022 – three years faster than the earlier projections. As the digital economy grows at this rapid pace, discussions of key components of the digital transformation have been gaining considerable attention.  Two key areas where value can be created is in data and artificial intelligence (AI). 

While the benefits of harnessing data and AI are well-recognised in the region, governments are also thinking about minimising unintended consequences of tech. With a focus on Southeast Asia, the Asia Society has published the Raising Standards on Data and AI report highlighting the need to bring in human factor considerations, adapting the technology in line with the local context, and introducing appropriate regulations for both data and AI.    

The report includes a comprehensive repository of existing rules and current issues on governing data and AI in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. The recommendations highlight the need to incorporate five key principles in regulations: agency, care, equity, inclusion, and reliability. A key insight the report puts forward is the belief that technologies using data and AI should promote human dignity. 

Several other researchers have also pointed out similar gaps in the tech regulatory landscape in Southeast Asia. For example, scholars point to the need for policymakers to consciously promote inclusive digital economies as the accelerated growth has also led to an increase in the digital divide between urban and rural areas; large firms and MSMEs; and between men and women. In addition, an analysis of regulatory developments in the ride-sharing sector in Southeast Asia have identified that the approach followed by governments has been mostly top-down, compromising inclusivity in the process. Industry scholars note that regulators should be aware of the potential complexity of human-technology interaction and proactively legislate on ethical issues that cannot be undermined and have catastrophic implications.

The report by Asia Society adds to the growing body of work on human-technology interaction. Not only does it talk about protecting humans from possible vulnerability while embracing digital technologies, but goes a step further in discussing the different avenues that human-centric policies can be designed to adequately address their needs. Furthermore, this report calls for Southeast Asian countries to lead the way in setting their own standards. 

For governments in the region, there are several key factors to consider when developing frameworks for data and AI.  Southeast Asia’s digital development is varied across the region, with each country in different stages of their digital transformation journey.  It is important to consider the timing and appropriateness of frameworks to ensure that regulations do not hinder investment and innovation. In addition, the multi-stakeholder approach should start with a common understanding of the technology and the envisioned end-goal for the society. A recent workshop conducted by Tech for Good Institute with stakeholders in Vietnam highlights the importance of having an alignment in definitions and expectations in financial inclusion. The same should be the case with discussions around data and AI.  

Finally, the importance of personal dignity in human-technology interaction is crucial.  In advancing the use of digital technologies, this principle ensures that the promise of technology for a more inclusive society is realised.

Photo by Tron Le on Unsplash

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Mouna Aouri

Programme Fellow

Mouna Aouri is an Institute Fellow at the Tech For Good Institute. As a social entrepreneur, impact investor, and engineer, her experience spans over two decades in the MENA region, South East Asia, and Japan. She is founder of Woomentum, a Singapore-based platform dedicated to supporting women entrepreneurs in APAC through skill development and access to growth capital through strategic collaborations with corporate entities, investors and government partners.

Dr Ming Tan

Founding Executive Director

Dr Ming Tan is founding Executive Director for the Tech for Good Institute, a non-profit founded to catalyse research and collaboration on social, economic and policy trends accelerated by the digital economy in Southeast Asia. She is concurrently a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Governance and Sustainability at the National University of Singapore and Advisor to the Founder of the COMO Group, a Singaporean portfolio of lifestyle companies operating in 15 countries worldwide.  Her research interests lie at the intersection of technology, business and society, including sustainability and innovation.


Ming was previously Managing Director of IPOS International, part of the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore, which supports Singapore’s future growth as a global innovation hub for intellectual property creation, commercialisation and management. Prior to joining the public sector, she was Head of Stewardship of the COMO Group and the founding Executive Director of COMO Foundation, a grantmaker focused on gender equity that has served over 47 million women and girls since 2003.


As a company director, she lends brand and strategic guidance to several companies within the COMO Group. Ming also serves as a Council Member of the Council for Board Diversity, on the boards of COMO Foundation and Singapore Network Information Centre (SGNIC), and on the Digital and Technology Advisory Panel for Esplanade–Theatres on the Bay, Singapore’s national performing arts centre.


In the non-profit, educational and government spheres, Ming is a director of COMO Foundation and Singapore Network Information Centre (SGNIC) and chairs the Asia Advisory board for Swiss hospitality business and management school EHL. She also serves on  the Council for Board Diversity and the Digital and Technology Advisory Panel for Esplanade–Theatres on the Bay, Singapore’s national performing arts centre.


Ming was educated in Singapore, the United States, and England. She obtained her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Stanford University and her doctorate from Oxford.