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Singapore’s IMDA chief on next wave of development

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SINGAPORE — The next wave of technology development will take place in Asia where digital economies have demonstrated robust growth despite the coronavirus pandemic, according to Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority.

Some 40 million people across six Southeast Asian countries came online for the first time last year, according to a commonly cited industry report from Google, Temasek Holdings and Bain & Company. Southeast Asia is home to some prominent companies like Sea Group, which operates the e-commerce site Shopee, Alibaba-owned Lazada, ride-hailing giants Grab and GoTo, which have ventured into other areas like food delivery and financial services, and online classifieds business Carousell.

Meanwhile, India and China have two of the world’s largest and fastest-growing internet populations, making them lucrative markets for large tech companies as well as small start-ups. That has led to a growing, vibrant technology sector in the region.

“We see huge opportunity, both for Singapore as well as for Asian countries,” IMDA Chief Executive Lew Chuen Hong told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” on Monday, ahead of the Asia Tech x Singapore summit. IMDA is Singapore’s regulator for the information, communication and media sector.

To tap into that opportunity, Singapore needs to ensure that it is always at the forefront of research and technology, he explained. The city-state needs to invest, it needs to ensure companies are adopting digital technologies rapidly and it has to make sure there is sufficient, skilled talent across the board to drive the transformation, the IMDA chief executive said.

Technology also cannot be viewed in isolation and the government has a role to play in exploring the intersection of business, society and tech, according to Lew, who is also the commissioner of the Personal Data Protection Commission, which enforces Singapore’s personal data protection act.

The central business district skyline from the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020.

Lauryn Ishak | Bloomberg | Getty Images

As far as data privacy goes, Lew explained that Singapore aims to be an “innovative regulator” that can balance protecting consumer interests and ensuring that companies can use data to drive innovation.

“Data is at the core of the digital economy and (in) Singapore, we try and take a very practical and pragmatic approach,” he said.

A slew of data breaches and privacy scandals have rocked big tech companies over the years, eroding consumer trust in those platforms. Regulators around the world are scrutinizing and cracking down on some of those tech companies.

One of the themes for the conference, set to take place between July 13 and 16, is rebuilding trust in the use of technology.

“The conundrum is that in a digital world, it allows you to scale – scale, reaching huge numbers of customers all around the world at the same time,” Lew said, adding, “But the irony is that trust doesn’t quite scale in the same traditional way. It’s not an easy challenge.”


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