Spotlight of Southeast Asia: Evolution of Tech Regulation in the Digital Economy

This paper provides an overview of “who” are regulators of Southeast Asia’s digital economy.

Southeast Asia’s digital economy growth continues to be one of the key megatrends that is shaping the region. In 2023, the digital economy is estimated to reach US$218 billion in gross merchandise value, which is an 11% year-on-year growth. Despite challenging macroeconomic economic conditions globally, Southeast Asia’s digital economy is poised to have positive growth trajectories with travel and transport sectors expected to exceed pre-pandemic levels by 2024. This digital transformation of the economy and society is fuelling economic growth for the region.

With technological advancements, however, there are also corresponding challenges. Governments are increasingly aware of unintended consequences associated with digital technologies. The region’s digital divide is concerning as the benefits of digitalisation may not be equitably distributed across countries, sectors and individuals. In addition, without proper digital literacy efforts, misinformation and disinformation may also cause harm to society.

For governments in Southeast Asia, governments are recognising the importance of updating laws and regulations to address the challenges of emerging technologies and the innovative business models they enable, while driving economic growth through digital transformation. It is not only technology that is evolving, but the regulators are also trying to evolve with it. This comes in the form of expansion of mandates, creation of new agencies, and close coordination with partners in the public and private sectors.

This paper aims to capture trends in the evolution of tech regulation in Southeast Asia. In particular, this is an overview of the regulators of the digital economy in six Southeast Asian countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

This paper builds on Australia National University’s Tech Policy Design Centre (TPDC) study on Tending the Tech Ecosystem. It is our hope that a shared understanding of “who” is developing and enforcing policy enables citizens, companies, researchers and policymakers to better interpret “how” technology governance is pursued in each jurisdiction. 

Key Takeaways:

Common areas of focus include: 1) preserving competition for innovation, 2) protecting consumers, 3) safeguarding personal data to foster trust, and 4) enhancing cybersecurity. This is reflective of a common goal of balancing digital innovation and protecting the public’s interest.

With new technologies and innovative business models, the mandate of regulators now includes areas traditionally not within their purview. For example, the rise of e-commerce has added new policy areas for trade ministries and central banks. Transport franchising regulators have also seen an expansion of their mandate to include ride-hailing services and transport-sharing services. In some cases, reorganisation within and between ministries has been necessary to adapt to the changing landscape of the digital economy.

Digitalisation has introduced new challenges unique to the digital economy. For example, data protection agencies have been created to respond to the need for safeguarding personal data in our new digital reality. Cybersecurity agencies are also being formed to protect critical technologies and information systems, address cyber threats, foster trust in the ecosystem, and enable a more resilient digital ecosystem.

Technology and business innovation moves faster than traditional policymaking. To keep pace with the impact of digital transformation, tech policy coordination is needed among government agencies, between public and private sectors, and across countries.

This review is but a “snapshot” of current practice as of 2023. We are keenly aware that the rapid evolution of technology, coupled with the pace of change within each country, will mean continued changes in the tech regulatory landscape.

We welcome your feedback, especially with regard to any inaccuracies, omissions or obsolete information. Please do not hesitate to contact info@techforgoodinstitute.org.

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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.