Cybersecurity and the protection of personal data should be the key focal points in Asia over the coming years, as the region is poised to see a rise in technological advancements, and the increasing prevalence of the IoT. Software is gradually falling out of vogue to be replaced with hardware, robotics and IoT devices. In Hong Kong, for example, there has been huge investment in this industry. Andrew Young MengCheung, Chief Commercial Officer of the Hong Kong Science and Technology Park, has said that Hong Kong is “moving in three directions: robotics, healthy ageing, and smart city.”

Of particular interest in the Asian market is the development of technology to assist with geriatric care, due to the ageing population, and the cultural trend in many Asian countries for people to care for their parents. Similarly, there is increasingly a move to ‘smart cities’, with Singapore, Bangkok and Jakarta launching initiatives to use technology to improve lives and businesses, ranging from transport maps and apps to make travel easier, to connected homes to control lighting and airconditioning via tablets and smartphones. IoT is also expected to drive an uptake in smart education and personalised learning through the use of information technology.

Predictions for Asia

  • The International Data Corporation forecasts that IoT in Asia-Pacific (excluding Japan) is set to explode to 8.6 billion devices by 2020, growing from a current annual market of US$250 billion to US$583 billion in 2020.
  • It has been predicted that the size of the consumer technology market in China, the world’s second largest economy, will grow by about five per cent to US$281 billion in 2015, likely overtaking the US as the primary market for consumer technology goods. 
  • The Malaysian Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MIMOS) launched the National Internet of Things (IoT) Strategic Roadmap in July 2015, to drive the adoption of IoT. This is expected to contribute US$2.49 billion to the country’s gross national income by 2020.
  • In a recent PricewaterhouseCooper study, respondents from Asia were most likely to say that their companies are investing in sensors (key IoT technology), followed closely by Latin America.
  • Oordeoo and Ericsson recently launched IoT initiatives in Indonesia.

Key considerations for IoT in Asia

In addition to advances in low-cost hardware, connectivity, and software, achieving the full potential of IoT in Asia will require improvements in security and sophisticated methods for ensuring privacy, protection of intellectual property, and assignment of data ownership. As IoT application touch on so many areas of regulatory and government responsibility, policy makers will play a key role in enabling IoT in Asia. To take full advantage of IoT, policy makers will be required to help by addressing concerns about security and privacy and encouraging the development of standards to promote interoperability.

Security

Cybersecurity has become a top-tier risk for all multinational organisations. As Cisco CEO John Chambers recently predicted, the volume of cyber attacks and, ultimately, the number of successful penetrations, is likely to increase exponentially.

Attackers innovate rapidly at little expense, harnessing sophisticated cyber weapons, sharing techniques and ‘renting access’ to corporate networks to less sophisticated cyber criminals. Hackers typically operate beyond the reach of developed world law enforcement and are almost never apprehended.

In this area, many countries in Asia-Pacific are arguably behind the pace, with some countries only now introducing cybersecurity strategies and other countries having no strategy in place. A recent study by The Software Alliance (BSA) and security market researcher Galexia, which evaluated 10 countries in Asia-Pacific on five key aspects of cybersecurity, found that China, South Korea and Indonesia were hindered by local standards and testing requirements. South Korea, Malaysia, China and Vietnam were still in the process of developing their cybersecurity infrastructures, whereas Indonesia had no cybersecurity plan to speak of. The study identified Singapore as the clear leader in cybersecurity, flagging Singapore’s 2013 5-Year National Security Plan and the establishment of a new Cyber Security Agency which has oversight of Singapore’s cybersecurity functions. Identified as key was the fact that the Singapore government was also committed to developing public/private partners to improve cybersecurity.

To take full advantage of IoT, governments in Asia-Pacific would be well-advised to follow Singapore’s lead in the development and implementation of a national cybersecurity plan, the establishment of independent bodies to oversee national cybersecurity functions and introduction of public/ private partners to improve cybersecurity.

Privacy

Asia-Pacific’s ‘report card’ is arguably far stronger with respect to the protection of personal information with Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, South Korea and Taiwan all recently introducing comprehensive data protection regimes in their respective jurisdictions. These follow the long-standing data protection regimes in Australia and Hong Kong, both of which have recently further strengthened their regimes. There are clear data collection guidelines applicable in Asia to companies and public bodies. However, even here, Asia-Pacific is still playing ‘catch up’ with other jurisdictions. What is becoming increasingly clear is that the increasing connectivity of devices, and the resultant data flows between those devices, will make it harder for businesses to comply with data privacy legislation. The key issues identified include lack of informed consent from the consumer to such data flows and the increase in connected devices multiplying exponentially the amount of data that can be accessed and analysed. As they play catch-up with more established regimes elsewhere, the regulators in Asia-Pacific will need to play a careful balancing act between the right to privacy in personal data and encouraging the adopting of IoT, with all of the benefits that it can bring.