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.
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 email@example.com.