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The Year that Was: A report on the initiatives and activities of the Asia-Pacific Bureau for 2016

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Date: 18 Apr 2017

Document Type: Reports

Tags: Asia-Pacific

Introduction

This report was put together to outline some of the key initiatives undertaken by the Internet Society’s Asia-Pacific (APAC) Regional Bureau in 2016. While it is not meant to be an exhaustive record, we do hope that it provides you with a good overview of our activities in the region.

In addition to the Bureau’s core programmes, our Chapters are also very active in their local communities and, as volunteer-led entities, do amazing work in helping to support and carry out the Internet Society’s mission at the local level. We invite you to find out more about our Chapters at http://www.internetsociety.org/who-we-are/chapters

Regional highlights

A budding digital economy continued to make its mark in Asia-Pacific in 2016, with technology firms, particularly from China, expanding to other markets in the region: Mobile phone manufacturer Xiaomi, after making headway in India, set its sights on Indonesia as car-hailing app Didi Chuxing made bets on its Southeast Asian counterpart, Singapore-based GrabTaxi.

Governments, for their part, are coming to grips with the rise of new business models and its impact on socio-economic growth. Singapore this year followed the Philippines’ lead announcing regulations for ride sharing platform to legally operate in the city-state while the Philippines, with the World Bank’s help, launched the Open Traffic Initiative, which uses GPS information from GrabTaxi drivers to help authorities address urban road congestion. Japan, after a period of regulatory limbo, has put together a provision, to be enforced in 2017, to allow Internet applications to rent out private lodging to tourists. India also moved to put a cap on ‘surge pricing’, the spike in fares that these services charge at peak hours, in an attempt to balance consumer welfare and competitiveness in the digital environment.

Most countries in Asia-Pacific have yet to pass clear legislation directed at peer-to-peer platforms, and while some consider this an advantage, others suggest having clear policies may also result in better guidelines to help direct the sector’s development, as well as competition. A number of countries are also looking at the dominance of global Internet firms in local markets as well as the issue of taxes on their local activities and profits. Earlier this year, Indonesia drafted requirements for Internet-based firms to set up a permanent establishment in the country or risk having their services blocked. Similarly, Thailand is considering ways by which it can tax over-the-top players like Google and Facebook.

The year also saw a more dedicated drive by the region’s biggest economies to support e-entrepreneurship. In China, Baidu has committed to investing USD50 to USD100 million in Internet firms, while in India, Reliance’s new Jio Digital India Startup fund will make some USD800 million available to budding tech companies. Just as notable are efforts to widen the sector’s impact in low-income areas. China’s Alibaba has pledged to train college graduates who wish to return to their home provinces to start an e-business while the government sets up service stations in villages to help local communities buy and sell online.

Set against these developments is a higher concern for cybersecurity. In some countries, tighter controls on online content are being used in an attempt to prevent the spread of ‘false’ or culturally sensitive information. China this year cracked down on cloud storage providers and is also setting its sights on virtual private networks that are used to circumvent its Great Firewall. In India, mobile Internet services have been targeted for suspension, particularly in the aftermath of civilian dissent in the states of Kashmir, Gujarat and Haryana--measures that the Indian Supreme Court has upheld as a valid use of curfew powers. Indonesia has instructed messaging apps to remove lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) related emoticons and stickers from the local market. Pakistan, meanwhile, has unblocked YouTube nearly three years after its courts banned the video-sharing site, but only following assurances that it will insert countryspecific filters to remove objectionable content. China also enacted its new Cybersecurity Law, which subjects the communications and information industry to periodic security checks while mandating them to store users’ data, in an effort to centralise state control over information flows and technology equipment.

These actions by various countries have had implications not only for civil liberties but also for business. One of Malaysia’s most popular media organisations, The Malaysian Insider (TMI), shut down in 2016 after failing to secure more funding, one year after the government blocked it for reporting on controversies related to the current government leadership. Netflix, a newcomer in APAC, has also backed out of China due to broader restrictions on streaming media. Yet these have not completely dampened the region’s appeal to global players. AirBnB this year opened a dedicated base in China, forming cooperative agreements with local authorities, while Facebook, which has been banned in the country, held high-profile meetings with its Internet regulator and is reportedly building ‘censorship-related’ software tools that suppress posts from appearing in news feeds in specific geographies.

The year 2016 likewise found Asia-Pacific countries grappling with an increasing number of cyberattack incidents. The Philippines suffered from a massive hack of its voter database on the eve of its national elections, compromising the personal information of some 1.3 million citizens, while China registered a new record of more than 1,000 cases of online fraud, some of which have led companies to file for bankruptcy and individuals to commit suicide.

Indeed, alongside a heightened concern for security in the region also came a greater awareness of the importance of keeping connected systems and online personal data secure. Japan for the first time recognised the ‘right to be forgotten’ in court cases. Indonesia and South Korea went a step further: The former has amended its Electronic Information and Transactions Law, which includes provisions for users to seek a court order to request that information about them online be deleted, while the latter released guidelines in April that enable people in the country to get personal information they self-posted removed from search-engine results and online sites.

E-commerce continues its growth trajectory in the region, with transactions worth some $1 trillion dollars in 2016 and estimates approaching $3 trillion by 2020. China continues to be the world’s number one e-commerce market, but there is also strong growth in other parts of the region including India, where the withdrawal of high value currency towards the end of the year accelerated the adoption of digital payments. Southeast Asia – in particular Indonesia with its large population base – is seen as being on the verge of a major ecommerce boom. Being a mobile-first region, greater Internet penetration coupled with improvements in regional infrastructure and an expanding middle class are some of the factors contributing to this growth. Such developments, more than ever, highlight the need for continued trust in the Internet and the digital economy it helps enable.

Some challenges do remain – the lack of digital payment systems that work globally are an issue for many of the smaller markets e.g. the Pacific Islands. There is also the issue of the unbanked population or those without access to credit/debit cards that can be used online. As well, there are issues around data security and privacy that need further attention.

All in all, it has been a hectic year, and 2017 looks to be no different!

Internal events

INET Kathmandu [17-18 March Kathmandu, Nepal]

Last year a 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck various parts of Nepal, leaving nearly 9,000 people dead and destroying over half a million homes. Relief and recovery efforts in affected areas went on for several months, involving multiple agencies, and the re-building continues. In March, our INET Kathmandu conference brought together International agencies, local stakeholders involved in emergency planning services and relief work to discuss the role of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in disaster management, and what lessons could be learnt from the Nepal experience. The conference was recognised as the first of its kind that focused on the role of the Internet and ICTs in disaster management (and in particular, earthquakes). The event had very good feedback from both the local community and international organisations involved in disaster management.

Storify: https://storify.com/isocapac/inet-kathmandu-2016
Recorded Webcast: https://livestream.com/internetsociety/inetktmd

Asia Internet Symposium-Online [23 March]

Our first-ever Asia Internet Symposium-Online (AIS-O) was organised as a completely online event, with panellists in a virtual roundtable interacting with ISOC members and the wider community. The event focused on how we could build a better online security and trust agenda for the Asia-Pacific region. It explored the interplay of security and trust, and how these work within the Internet ecosystem while also assessing how technology (and non-technology related) policies affect them. Speakers from IBM, Asia-Pacific Telecommunity, (ISC)², Internet Society and Consumer International offered their perspectives on building a secure and trusted Internet in a rapidly evolving environment. 

Asia-Pacific @ InterCommunity 2016 [21 September]

InterCommunity 2016 (IC2016), an interactive global event tapped the power of the Internet to bring Internet Society's global community together for conversations on two key topics: (1) connecting the unconnected; and (2) increasing trust in the Internet. On the day, ISOC chapters from the Asia-Pacific region came together to participate in IC2016 discussions, hosting 11 nodes in four different sub regions - all the way from the Pacific Islands to Pakistan. With over 400 on-site participants, and more than 200 online participants, IC2016 Asia-Pacific nodes demonstrated the diversity of the ISOC community and power of an open Internet that supports everyone's right to share knowledge, innovate and get their voices heard.

Storify: https://storify.com/isocapac/intercommunity-2016-asia-pacific

Asia Internet Symposium [22 September, Bangkok, Thailand]

Hosted by the ISOC Thailand Chapter, the Asia Internet Symposium in Bangkok discussed the technology, legal, regulatory and societal issues of the “Internet of Things (IoT)”. Representatives from Software Industry Promotion Agency of Thailand, International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Asia-Pacific Telecommunity, CAT Telecommunication Public Limited, Thailand Technology Start-ups Association and the Thai Netizen group shared their views on the opportunities presented by IoT, and how we could respond to related challenges of interoperability, user privacy, security, and further support for future innovation.

Recorded Webcast: https://livestream.com/internetsociety/aisbkk

APAC Workshop on Gender and ICT [2-3 October, Bangkok, Thailand]

The Internet Society (ISOC) Asia-Pacific Bureau in partnership with the Association for Progressive Communication (APC) organised the ‘Workshop on Mainstreaming Gender in Internet and Development in the Asia-Pacific Region’ from 2-3 October 2016. The event brought together 19 women leaders from across the region to discuss strategies for mainstreaming gender in Internet and development discourse, within the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The workshop was organised in parallel with the ISOC Asia-Pacific Regional Chapter Leaders Meeting 2016 that was attended by 19 ISOC Chapter leaders in the region. During the workshop, there were opportunities for participants from both workshops to come together to exchange views and ideas, identify challenges and work towards solutions, as well as discuss opportunities for collaboration.

Regional Internet & Development Conference [3-4 October, Bangkok, Thailand]

The Internet Society (ISOC) Asia-Pacific Bureau and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) co-organised the ‘Asia-Pacific Regional Internet and Development Dialogue’ (APRIDD) from 3-4 October 2016. The event brought together over 200 participants that included high-level government officials from Asia and the Pacific, and a multidisciplinary group of leading regional experts, civil society organizations, industry representatives, entrepreneurs, and academic and research institutes. The APRIDD convened a multi-stakeholder regional dialogue on policy issues around ‘Internet for Development’ and addressed some of the opportunities and challenges towards achieving the SDGs and the WSIS Action Lines in the AsiaPacific region.

Conference report: http://bit.ly/riddreportapac 
Storify: https://storify.com/isocapac/apac-regional-internet-development-dialogue

Asia Internet Symposium [11 November, Hong Kong]

Hosted by the ISOC Hong Kong chapter, the Asia Internet Symposium in Hong Kong provided a forum for different sectors to deliberate on the wider aspects of the ‘Internet of Things’ ranging from applications, potential implications on other areas of technology, and social and political landscapes. Representatives from Innovation & Technology Bureau of the Government of Hong Kong, Hong Kong Police Force, Internet Architecture Board, Ranking Digital Rights and Inha University, Korea shared their views on the ‘Angels and Devils’ of the Internet of Things. This symposium was organised along with ISOC Hong Kong’s 10th anniversary celebrations.

Recorded Webcast: https://livestream.com/internetsociety/aishk