Griffin on Tech: A Pacific neighbour’s internet clampdown
Indonesia doesn’t feature on the news agenda here very much, which is a poor reflection on us, not the Indonesians.
The sprawling island archipelago nation just to the northwest of Australia is home to 273 million people and is very much within the Asia Pacific economic sphere we consider ourselves part of.
Exports to Indonesia reached $1.2 billion in 2019. That has the potential to grow significantly as the spending power of the country’s middle class grows. This is a country that deserves more of our attention.
Indonesia has set its sights on becoming a digital hub and is already doing very well on the tech front, with 13 tech ‘unicorns’ - companies with a valuation of US$1 billion or more, now based there.
President Joko Widodo’s Making Indonesia 4.0 roadmap is an ambitious plan to transform Indonesia into one of the world’s top ten economies with digital infrastructure at its heart.
But that vision for the country was undermined somewhat this month as the Indonesian Government introduced an internet licensing scheme that effectively gives it control over what Indonesians access on the internet.
Indonesia wants to become a powerhouse in the tech world.
Vague internet rules
Any major digital platform that wants to access the Indonesian market and the country’s local internet providers and social media players must agree to the Government’s rules, which it claims are needed to enhance data protection and ensure harmful content that could “disturb public order” is purged from the internet.
This is a country with a track record of cracking down on human rights activists and journalists. The vagueness of the regulations and what actually constitutes disturbing public order has seen critics in Indonesia and around the world condemn the move as yet another government equipping itself to censor the digital realm.
As the New York Times tech writer Shira Ovide put it: “In three of the four most populous countries in the world, governments have now given themselves the power to order that the internet be wiped of citizens’ posts that the authorities don’t like.”
The big tech companies, Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Netflix and Spotify among them, acquiesced and dutifully lined up to apply for a licence. But the implementation of the rules last week temporarily saw the likes of PayPal, Yahoo! banned from operating in Indonesia because they didn’t register in time.
An open internet?
It’s not the sort of environment you’d expect a flourishing tech hub to thrive in. Indonesia has gained traction as an attractive location for game development. But will the big game development studios want to base themselves there with the looming prospect of internet censorship?
The tech companies have shown themselves to be only too willing to compromise on their values of freedom of speech and net neutrality, in order to access lucrative growing markets like China, India and now Indonesia.
As our own Government undertakes to expand digital trade across the Asia Pacific nations through the APEC and ASEAN partnerships, we have the opportunity and the obligation to push for our neighbours to afford their own citizens the digital freedoms we enjoy and take for granted at home.
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