Unleashing the Potential of Data in the Digital Economy

Since 2006, Amazon Web Services (AWS) has offered on-demand IT infrastructure services to businesses in the form of web services – also known as cloud computing. This model of IT eliminates the need for businesses to procure or purchase their own IT infrastructure in advance of anticipated business needs.

AWS technology replaces upfront capital expenditures with low variable costs that scale according to business demands. Now, organizations of any size can instantly spin up hundreds or thousands of servers in minutes to deliver results faster. If the next day they don’t need this capacity, they don’t pay for it. AWS provides a highly secure, reliable, scalable, and low-cost infrastructure platform in the cloud that serves millions of active customers in more than 240 countries and territories.

In a way, AWS has had a front row seat to the data economy over the past years, observing and learning from our customers. Across virtually every industry, AWS customers have accelerated innovation and reshaped nearly every aspect of our daily lives. We’ve seen startups disrupt longstanding industries and enterprises transform their customer experiences, and as a result, their businesses. And we’ve seen companies use data and technology to deliver greater public goods. AWS customers have exemplified how responsible use of data can drive economic prosperity and improve quality of life.

Over the past decade, international data flows are estimated to have increased global GDP by 10.1%, and today the ability to move data across borders generates positive outcomes. In today’s marketplace, data is the most critical asset individuals, organizations, and nations can cultivate. This fact has led institutions like Harvard to examine and measure a new kind of global GDP – “gross data product.” The ubiquity of smart phones and the Internet of Things (IoT) and the trajectory of the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning is projected to result in nearly US$13 trillion in economic activity by 2030.

How will nations harness the data economy’s full potential and create an environment in which their citizens can enjoy these benefits?  There are many ways to address this, but a fundamental approach would be to establish the appropriate legal and regulatory frameworks to embrace the data economy. Policymakers must strike a balance between fostering free data flows and addressing data security and data privacy concerns. Where they land will have a significant impact on a nation or region’s ability to compete economically, the opportunities for growth and innovation, and the overall wellbeing of their citizens. 

Citizens and consumers are a key focus for government in this debate. Humans will generate unbelievable amounts of data as more of our daily lives are connected and digitized. In some cases, that data will be of a personal or sensitive nature. This raises valid and important questions regarding data privacy and data security and to what extent the average consumer can ensure the privacy and protection of their personal data in the marketplace. 

Data localization legislation is one of the approaches used to address  concerns about data security, influenced by the misconception that confining data within specific borders or placing excessive restrictions on the types of entities that can process, store, or transmit data across borders will lead to better data security outcomes. When speaking about security in the cloud, though, one may think that the security of the infrastructure itself is a key determinant of risk to data security, not the geographic location where that data may happen to reside.

To bolster a secure environment, the development of clearly designed and well-funded national cybersecurity strategies that include government data classification policies and cybersecurity frameworks are essential. Governments should implement policies that balance data protection and data security concerns with enabling data flows. These policies are successful when they are clear in purpose, do not impose onerous compliance requirements, and are adopted with the objective of promoting interoperability and harmonization across various jurisdictions.