Data sharing, pandemic response and closing Asia’s data divide for the post-COVID recovery


By Antony Cook, Regional Vice President and Chief Legal Counsel, Microsoft Asia. 

antonyDriven by the rapid adoption of digital technology, the datasphere is growing exponentially. The world now generates more data in one day, than all data that was generated until the year 2000; and unsurprisingly, Asia is leading the charge. Compounded with the fact that our technological capability of analysing, understanding and using that data is accelerating by the second, it is clear that data will play a more important role than ever across the region, and globally.

Through data – and the AI-driven technology that helps us make sense of it – we advance our sciences, better our environment and innovate our technologies. Let’s take the current global health crisis as an example – we see that data, and the effective sharing of data, has powered initiatives across a myriad of pandemic responses, from tracking the spread of the virus, to understanding the disease and developing treatments. Governments and healthcare institutions can make better, informed decisions whilst scientists can keep updated on the latest breakthroughs across borders through efficient data management and sharing. The Pandemic is demonstrating what we all have known for a long time: that data-driven approaches can drive positive change and be a force for good.

However, it is important that we pay attention not only to positive impacts, but also to emerging challenges. In this case, we need to be clear-sighted about the potential unequal distribution of the gains from the burgeoning data economy. Over half of the data generated today is concentrated in the hands of fewer than a hundred companies. Current forecasts predict that based on today’s trends, 70% of all the economic benefits from AI could accrue to just two countries: the USA and China. This will become increasingly relevant as governments shift their attention to the post-COVID economic recovery, and the role AI will play in unlocking new opportunities for growth and job creation. Increased opening, sharing and collaborating around data could mean a higher chance of inclusive economic recovery, one where the gains from the rapid digital transformation of recent months will be widely shared.

Democratizing the gains from data and AI begins with democratizing access to data. In this movement, Asia will play a key role, particularly given the size of its population and economies.

Programs to promote data sharing have already been developed in countries like Australia, Singapore, and South Korea. Singapore, for example, unveiled the Trusted Data Sharing Framework in 2019. The initiative aims to address challenges organisations face when sharing data assets, such as the need to ensure regulatory compliance, and a lack of standardized legal and technical approaches for sharing data between organisations.

Many governments in the region have recognised the leading role they can play by opening up their own data. Malaysia launched a centralized platform providing data brokerage services across government agencies in 2018; Thailand is planning to set-up a similar government data exchange  within two years; and Indonesia issued a regulation last year to push forward One Data Indonesia, an initiative to realize better, more structured and integrated data governance. Open dialogue between governments and with industry on the progress made in these initiatives, as well as how to tackle remaining barriers will be an important next step.

At Microsoft, we are committed to contributing to this movement. In April, we launched a campaign to help address the “data divide” and ensure that every organization, no matter how big or small, can benefit from AI and the data economy. The goal of our campaign is to advance a much-needed discussion about how the world uses and shares data.

To start, we have announced three steps:

  • First, we have published new principles that will guide how Microsoft itself approaches sharing our data with others. In our contributions, we will be guided by the following principles to ensure trusted data collaborations – open, usable, empowering, secure and private.
  • Second, we have committed to take action by developing 20 new collaborations built around shared data by 2022 – including in Asia.
  • Finally, we will invest in the essential assets that will make data sharing in safe and secure ways easier, including the needed tools, frameworks, and templates.

More needs to be done at the domestic and international level to open, share and collaborate around data in Asia. We need to accelerate this process to make sure that no one is left behind in the data economy. This will involve all parties, from policy-makers to academics, researchers and technology companies, but – as the Pandemic is showing us – it will prove pivotal in ensuring collective success.

Related Posts