Better policies needed for digital inclusion

To ensure that all individuals and communities, including the most disadvantaged, have meaningful access to and use of digital technologies

by NUR HANANI AZMAN / pic by BERNAMA

POLICIES for digital inclusion and governance must be improved to further Malaysia’s digital transformation journey, said Khazanah Research Institute (KRI).

According to KRI, the goal of digital inclusion is to ensure that all individuals and communities, including the most disadvantaged, have meaningful access to and use of digital technologies.

“This means expanding the conversation around the digital divide beyond access and affordability to digital skills and meaningful Internet connectivity and use,” it said in its latest book, #NetworkedNation: Navigating Challenges, Realising Opportunities of Digital Transformation.

The book offers various topic-specific policy recommendations towards this goal, underscored by three principles.

The first principle is increasing cooperation across key institutions and engaging with public-interest advocates towards the goal of inclusivity.

Second, establishing an overarching framework for digital policy to ensure society-wide interoperability towards the goal of good governance and lastly, by improving public education and digital literacy at all levels to facilitate Malaysia’s digital transformation.

This book is a revised compilation of KRI’s published papers on digital policy issues from September 2020 to April 2021.

Its eight chapters delve into pressing issues surrounding digital transformation, including digital inclusion, mobile broadband quality, platform workers, digitalisation among firms, data access and privacy, misinformation and artificial intelligence (AI).

Research presented in the book shows that Malaysia is a highly digitally networked nation, with 90% of households using the Internet, mostly through mobile broadband plans on smartphones.

“However, mobile broadband quality as experienced by Internet users is shown to be lower than that reported by service providers, even in urban areas with better developed infrastructure.

“Internet usage trends show the digital generation gap closing, as Internet users aged 50 and above increase from 4.2% to 16% between 2012 and 2018,” it added.

On the other hand, the digital gender gap is widening, with the proportion of Internet users who are women decreasing from 43.6% to 41% between 2012 and 2018.

KRI’s research further confirms that the most popular online activities among Malaysians are communication and social media, but online activities related to work and study remain relatively low despite the increased dependence on Internet connectivity during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“KRI’s analysis of platform workers verifies that job-seeking activity increases when job seekers have improved digital access and digital skills.”

The book further highlights that the digital divide in terms of skills and meaningful connectivity occurs not just at the household level, but also at the firm level, with larger firms being able to benefit more from digital tools while smaller firms with limited funds and technological knowledge lag behind.

“The success of a digital Malaysia depends not only on everyone benefitting from digital technologies, but also on good digital governance, beginning with data,” it said.

KRI’s book underscores the value of making government data open by default while addressing the need to regulate corporations’ collection and use of personal data, including improving cybersecurity.

Malaysia’s open government data level lags behind regional and developmental peers and has not improved significantly over the years.

Meanwhile, corporate data collection of sensitive and detailed personal information is largely unregulated.

The book also addresses the challenge of evaluating information online, particularly information overload on social media. KRI studied the difficulties of identifying and classifying misinformation.

Initial findings suggest that while computational tools can help people identify misinformation, a better solution to the problem of misinformation includes greater transparency and fact-checking, adding further value to open government data.

“The use of big data and AI is on the rise in Malaysia. KRI’s book explores the challenges and concerns of implementing these technologies in the context of their use in the courts of Sabah and Sarawak and finds that a human hand is still needed to steer the ship.

“Responsible AI development includes having an ethical regulatory framework and ongoing consultations with all parties involved,” it said.