Benefits of big data not yet being fully exploited in China

By Li Qiaoyi Source:Global Times Published: 2018/3/19 21:08:39

Illustration: Luo Xuan/GT


Surging data flows, which have become one of the hallmarks of the digital era, are gaining a higher profile than traditional flows of goods, liquidity and people. This seems particularly true in the case of China where the mobile internet boom and the resultant prosperity of applications for navigation, food delivery or payment have created a deluge of data known as big data.

Data is playing a growing role in revving up the economy but it's also creating certain problems. This duality has been discussed at this year's two sessions, a reminder that the government needs to mull ways to maximize big data benefits while avoiding the undesirable side effects.

Since making its debut in the annual Government Work Report in 2014, big data has been mentioned in each work report since then. Among the efforts to develop powerful new growth engines, China will "implement the big data development action plan," read this year's work report, in the latest sign of the continuing importance of big data in the nation's economic policymaking.

Back in September 2015, the State Council unveiled an action framework for boosting big data development, which envisioned nurturing 500 companies, including 10 major global firms, in the field of big data applications, services and product manufacturing by 2020.

A survey by the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology last year revealed that the country's market for big data hit 16.8 billion yuan ($2.65 billion) in 2016, an increase of 45 percent from the year before. It also forecast that between 2017 and 2020, the market would grow at an annualized rate of more than 30 percent.

This has made big data a topic of interest for businesses seeking involvement in China's innovation-driven growth path.

However, the rapacious development of the nation's big data sector has also triggered concerns about how data can be collected, shared and managed in an effective and safe manner.

Addressing such concerns, deputies and members of the annual legislative and consultative gatherings have urged ramped-up efforts to ensure the availability and accessibility of open government data and the creation of a data protection bill.

Many government departments have yet to realize that only shared data resources can unlock the value of big data, said Xie Xiaoyao, deputy director of the leading group for big data development in Guizhou Province and a member of the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, according to the People's Political Consultative Daily.

Some government departments with an abundance of data regard the data as part of their private assets and are thus not inclined to make the data openly accessible, while some authorities refuse to enable open data on the grounds of data security, Xie noted.

To allow for open, shared government data, which the 2015 action framework had planned for as part of the establishment of a unified, open platform for government data by the end of this year, the country should set up a unified governing body to lead the open government data push, which is supposed to be participated in by various industry bodies and government departments, Sun Pishu, a deputy to the 13th National People's Congress (NPC) and CEO of Inspur Group, said in his motion to the meeting.

Third-party data operators, particularly State-backed firms with expertise in open source-based big data technologies, should be engaged in the creation of the unified, open platform for open government data, he said.

That surely suggests a mindset change, and the application of new technologies can also help.

To build bridges to the "isolated island of data" prevalent in both the government and business sectors, solutions powered by artificial intelligence and blockchain technology can ensure data security, said Zhang Jindong, an NPC deputy and chairman of Suning Holdings Group.

On top of all that, there's a growing consensus that the nation should push for legislative efforts to draft a bill specifically for oversight of data collection and sharing, allowing for big data to benefit the economy as well as putting up a legal wall against data breaches.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.

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