Strategies for energising the data economy

The free flow of data across borders allows people to access the global range of services and permits businesses to reduce their costs and prices for customers. In the “Strategies for Energising the Data Economy” session at Ministerial Programme 2022, we brought together a range of speakers from industry and governments to discuss the free flow of data through the lens of trade, harmonised regulation, and increased data protection. 

The session began with H.E. Johnny Gerard Plate, Minister of Communications and Informatics for the Republic of Indonesia sharing his country’s plan to become a data hub. Indonesia holds the G20 presidency in 2022 and digital transformation and data flows are key priorities under its leadership. The minister stressed four principles for data flows with trust: firms must be accountable, countries should support updated mechanisms, implement enforcement, and support encryption.

Following these interesting insights, the audience heard from Dex Hunter-Torricke, Vice President of Global Communications and Public Engagement for the Oversight Board. The Oversight Board is an independent organisation created by Meta to further scrutinise Meta’s decisions around free speech and expression on its platforms. Mr. Hunter-Torricke explained the Oversight Board’s mission and discussed how and why it looks at cases. The Oversight Board has looked at cases ranging from covid misinformation to whether Meta was right to suspend Donald Trump from Facebook and Instagram. The Oversight Board will either uphold Meta’s decisions or overturn them when the body does not agree with Meta’s decisions.

After this keynote, we moved on to the panel session moderated by Gavin Krugel (CEO, Digital Frontiers). Patricia Adusei-Poku (Executive Director & Commissioner, Data Protection Commission, Ghana) shared that “currently 34 out of 54 African Union countries are now starting to address data protection and these countries are working together through NADPA and SMART Africa to develop a regional approach”. She also believes that Africa is a green field to test out new data privacy approaches such as innovative practices of obtaining informed consent to use personal data from individuals who are unable to read or sign traditional consent forms. 

Juan Montero Rodil (Chief Public Policy, Competition and Regulatory Officer, Telefónica) shared some of Telefonica’s insights. He talked about the data economy writ large: “the data economy is the economy” and how data is indispensable to every region of the world. According to Mr. Rodil data is now the third pillar of the economy after labour and consumers. However, despite data being so vertically integrated, how personal data is processed and treated across the world is still extremely fragmented. 

Finally, Dr Kamal Shehadi (Chief Strategy Officer, Etisalat Group) commented on issues from data being viewed as a single thing rather than something that changes in the context in which it is used. He also emphasised the necessity for data transfers in a thriving digital economy and highlighted the lost opportunities for both governments and telecom operators from a lack of harmonisation as well as restrictive data nationalisation. The latter includes forgoing of better services for consumers and significant cost savings of over 20% for operators who are able to move data across borders and consolidate their operational services.

Overall, the session looked at the Data Economy from various aspects, raising several different viewpoints but coalescing on the need to have more harmonised approaches to regulating the use of data. The size of the data economy alone is hard to comprehend and striking a balance between regulating and driving the data economy means that we will have to innovate and try various new approaches. But, ultimately, we are clearly at the beginning of the immense opportunity that the data economy provides.

See more highlights from the Ministerial Programme here.