Charting the Course: Navigating Technology Governance in Southeast Asia

On 6 March 2024, the Tech For Good Institute (TFGI), with Tech Policy Design Centre as a supporting partner, successfully hosted a virtual research workshop to discuss the latest trends and challenges in technology regulation across Southeast Asia.

Speakers and moderator:


As Southeast Asia’s digital economy continues its impressive growth trajectory, the imperative to address accompanying challenges has become increasingly apparent. Among these challenges, digital inequality and the digital divide stand out, exacerbating existing social and economic disparities. Digitalisation tends to favour individuals with access, skills, and resources, leaving others at a distinct disadvantage.

Moreover, the spectre of cyber attacks and system vulnerabilities looms large, posing significant threats to profitability and eroding trust in digital systems. Simultaneously, digital transformation disrupts traditional workforces, necessitating a reevaluation of social protection and labour laws to accommodate job redefinition and displacement while introducing innovative work models.

The concerns extend beyond economic realms. The loss or theft of personal data raises serious concerns due to inadequate control and susceptibility to unauthorised use, such as identity theft or surveillance. Additionally, the proliferation of disinformation and misinformation threatens social cohesion, fostering polarised viewpoints and division within society, which in turn jeopardises regional security.

Furthermore, the environmental footprint of the digital economy cannot be overlooked. Increased carbon emissions, energy consumption, water usage, habitat loss, and e-waste generation contribute to ecological degradation.

Recognising the gravity of these challenges, governments across the region are starting to update regulations to keep pace with the rapid evolution of technology.

Drawing insights from policymakers, business leaders, industry representatives, researchers, and academics, the recent research workshop on Tech Regulation in Southeast Asia provided a platform for conversations on the dynamic landscape of technology governance across the region. Participants discussed trends, challenges, and best practices in tech regulation across the region.

Key takeaways:

1. Tech regulation in Southeast Asia is characterised by a shifting landscape, with varying approaches and priorities among governments in the region.

As Southeast Asia’s digital economy continues to grow, experts and regulators are recognising the importance of adapting traditional regulatory approaches to the rapid pace of technological innovation. For example, the participants noted that:

  • Indonesia is expanding government involvement in tech regulation due to the recognition of the global significance of digitalisation. This acknowledgement provides an opportunity for the government to realign its strategies accordingly.
  • Singapore highlights a collaborative approach to governance of emerging technologies. This includes fostering coordination between industries and regulatory bodies to keep pace with rapid technological advancements. However, potential conflicts may arise, such as those involving the use of Privacy Enhancing Technologies (PET), which aim to enhance privacy but may inadvertently lead to issues.
  • Thailand leverages regulatory impact assessments conducted by institutions like the Thai Development Research Institute (TDRI) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) for insights and law drafting. Additionally, the Electronic Transactions Development Agency (ETDA) actively engages in international forums for collaboration and monitors online complaints to inform the development of new laws aimed at protecting users and consumers.
  • Philippines does not have a centralised tech regulator, with various specialised agencies looking at different parts of the tech ecosystem. In some cases, ad-hoc engagements among regulators are done with the view of formalising arrangements with other regulatory bodies to keep pace with technological advancements.

2. There is a need to understand business models to draft laws to balance innovation with consumer protection.

Regulators play a critical role in shaping the legal landscape within which businesses operate. Emerging technologies often disrupt traditional business models, posing novel regulatory challenges. Therefore, regulators must grasp the diverse array of business models prevalent in today’s dynamic market to craft legislation that strikes the right balance between fostering innovation and protecting consumers.

3. Regulators are recognising that effective coordination between regulatory bodies and stakeholders is crucial, especially in response to the swift pace of technological progress.

The participants underscored the importance of inclusive discussions by emphasising the value of input from the private sector through both formal and informal channels to inform regulatory decisions. Experts also noted that close collaboration between regulators and Self-Regulatory Organisations (SROs) emerges as a crucial strategy for responding to tech developments. While regulators focus on impact assessment and legislative processes, SROs can provide nimble and responsive guidelines tailored to industry needs. Streamlining SRO-guidelines with clear objectives and aligning them with regulatory considerations before enforcement can enhance regulatory effectiveness. However, it’s essential to note that the traditional process of amending or creating policies is often time-consuming, leading to challenges in keeping up with evolving technologies. Moving forward, the general consensus amongst participants is that it is imperative for various stakeholders across tech governance, including governments, businesses, and civil society, to collaborate closely to ensure that regulatory measures keep pace with the evolving tech landscape, ultimately driving sustainable growth and development in Southeast Asia.

4. Flexible regulatory frameworks are crucial to address challenges posed by emerging technologies.

To ensure regulatory agility, regulators must avoid myopic and outdated approaches to tech regulation. Instead, they should embrace innovative yet feasible methods such as flexible regulatory frameworks, crucial for addressing challenges posed by emerging technologies. For example, Singapore’s approach to soft regulation, particularly its iterative updates to the Model AI Governance Framework, demonstrates the need for regulatory adaptability to accommodate innovations like GenAI. By implementing different tiers of soft regulation, starting with guidelines and evolving based on industry needs, regulatory bodies can establish baseline principles while remaining responsive to the rapidly evolving technological landscape. This approach enables regulators to strike a balance between fostering innovation and ensuring effective governance within existing legal frameworks.

5. Proactive approaches are being embraced by governments across Southeast Asia in response to the challenges and opportunities brought about by the digital economy.

Experts highlighted that the SEA-6 are actively tapping into the potential of emerging technologies while ensuring that regulatory frameworks evolve to keep pace with advancements. For example, Malaysia is observed to prioritise its digital economy agenda and restructuring government efforts to stay abreast of technological developments, particularly in the realm of artificial intelligence (AI). Similarly, Indonesia’s Ministry of Communications and Informatics, KOMINFO, was highlighted as an example of inclusive policy making that reflected the needs of various stakeholders by engaging with varied stakeholders such as private sectors and associations. Initiatives such as AI Ethics demonstrate a concerted effort to strike a balance between fostering innovation and exercising regulatory caution, highlighting the importance of adapting policies to the ever-changing tech landscape.

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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.