Privacy rules in the data driven world

John Giusti / GSMA

As of the end of 2016, there were 2.7 billion unique subscribers and by 2020 it is projected that there will be 3.1 billion mobile subscribers, three quarters of the population. The mobile ecosystem is flourishing. Fuelled by growing access to mobile data services, it is providing a platform for innovation that is generating employment opportunities and spurring the creation of new services.

Increased availability of mobile data is underpinning this wave of growth. In 2016 mobile broadband (3G and above) became the dominant technology, and 4G is projected to account for 48% of all connections by 2020. This surge in data use is critical to development in the Asia Pacific region. Global data flows are also creating new degrees of connectedness among economies, and digitalization can positively impact GDP.

This new data driven world offers huge opportunity. To operate within this environment, mobile’s key objective is to build the trust and confidence of users and in so doing enable data innovation that benefits consumers and society. This hinges on the implementation or certain and consistent rules for data privacy that apply to all providers.

Today there are significant discrepancies within Asia Pacific regarding principles incorporated into data privacy laws and how they are implemented at a national level. In some countries, mobile license conditions will stipulate that certain user information or accounting information may not be transferred outside the country. In those same countries, other service providers are not subject to the same restrictions, placing mobile operators at a disadvantage. If mobile operators are prevented from this practice, it inhibits mobile’s ability to utilize centralized cloud systems, making operating in the global economy very difficult. The consumer benefits that arise from efficiencies and economies of scale are also lost, ultimately reflecting on innovation, inhibiting competition and impacting services.

Mobile operators are also often subject to privacy-related restrictions in law or in national operator licenses regarding what they can and cannot do with user data. In some situations this may be reasonable and proportionate, however, we urge governments to limit restrictions to only those circumstances that are strictly necessary and, in each case, apply equally to all providers of communications or equivalent services.

Inconsistent application of rules affects the mobile industry’s ability to compete, and critically it prevents consumers’ privacy expectations from being met in a consistent way. For the industry to grow, consumers must have confidence that data is being protected. However, as the lines blur between what type of service each service provider delivers, consumers are not always aware of the privacy rules that apply, or which provisions only impact one segment of the market. This can lead to a degradation of trust. People are less willing to share information, less confident that their data will be used in accordance with stated mobile privacy policies and therefore less likely to use data-based services.

Unlocking social and economic benefits across Asia Pacific requires a regulatory environment that not only protects the privacy of consumers through consistent application of privacy rules but encourages the mobile industry’s ability to deliver innovative services.

The mobile industry is calling on policymakers throughout the Asia Pacific region to ensure that data regulation is based on the management of risk, with privacy obligations placed on the relevant players and based on the actual use of data, not based on the type of service provider. Rules need to be considered in the whole. If there is a reason to regulate the use of data, there is no reason to single out the mobile industry and to subject it to special rules. Further, there is a need to ensure that any rules imposed are effectively enforced. Only when all providers of data services are subject to the same privacy regulations, and these regulations are properly enforceable, an environment will be created where consumers can trust that their data is safe and protected.

By adopting a level-playing field in applicable regulation, and applying a data privacy framework that not only protects consumers in a consistent way, but also promotes innovation, digital technologies can realize their full social and economic potential across the Asia Pacific region.

John Giusti is chief regulatory officer of the GSMA

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