Ending the data ‘Wild West’ . . .
Announced at the National People’s Congress last month, China’s new Personal Information Protection Law (PIPL) was out for public comment until the end of last week. Experts welcomed the draft as a timely tool limiting the virtually unfettered access big tech companies have had to Chinese citizens’ personal data. The law also comes at a time of increased consumer pressure for better data protection, which has led to lawsuits and crackdowns on companies collecting data illegally. If passed, PIPL would be the first law comprehensively regulating the collection and processing of personal data in China, imposing fines of up to US$7.6 million for data breaches. However, given the value companies extract from user data, some experts find the proposed penalties still relatively light. Although PIPL may encourage tech companies to be more cautious with user data, enforcement may be challenging given the industry practice where consent to data collection is a prerequisite to accessing any digital service.
Data as a crucial economic resource . . .
The PIPL also comes when China is increasingly becoming a data powerhouse along with the United States and the European Union. According to Nikkei Asia, the flow of data coming in and out of China (including Hong Kong) in 2019 has significantly exceeded the flow for the U.S. and ten other countries examined. This puts Beijing in an advantageous position since accessing a rich volume of data – from foreign and domestic sources – is crucial to the research and development of artificial intelligence.
Emerging Asia in a fractured internet . . .
Emerging economies consider their data a national asset after experiencing explosive growth in data generation and flows in the last couple of years. This is particularly salient in India and Southeast Asia, which have leap-frogged to the newest digital technologies, including mobile payments. Many of these economies have made efforts to localize and secure data to benefit their domestic digital economies, including constructing data centres within their borders. But excessive ‘data protectionism’ can lead to a fractured internet and hobbled innovation ecosystems where countries horde their data assets and are cut-off from foreign data sources. The debate is relevant for Canada, which doesn’t possess vast volumes of data like more populous countries. But Ottawa can play a significant international role by promoting and enabling international co-operation frameworks that balance secure data flows and localization while building trust among countries in the digital era.
- KrAsia: Asian countries build data fortresses to protect new national assets
- NikkeiAsia: China rises as world’s data superpower as internet fractures
- South China Morning Post: China’s ‘wild era’ of internet may be ending as new personal data protection law seeks to curb Big Tech’s control over user data