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Indonesia's ‘Super Apps’: will they be another waste of state budget?
The Indonesia’s Ministry of Communication and Information’s (Kominfo) plan to merge around 24,000 government apps into just eight apps, which they call ‘Super Apps’, is worth closer scrutiny.
As of today, the government has developed tens of thousands of digital-based applications which have been proven ineffective to improve and support public services.
The release of various government applications so far has only prioritized quantity, as if only to keep up with new technology developments, without being accompanied by guarantees of quality access services.
The plan to merge the current applications into just eight is not even based on clear evidence. Together with public as users, government must ensure this merger will not cause new problems, both from a technical point of view and from the perspective of the delivery of public services.
The government’s wrong focus on digitalization
Minister of Finance, Sri Mulyani Indrawati, recently complained that the creation of thousands of government applications was a waste of money. The apps were made without considering the needs of public services and integration of all organizational units in the government.
‘Sentuh Tanahku’ (Touch My Land) an app created by the Ministry of Agrarian and Spatial Planning (BPN), has got a low rating, only 3.4 out of 5from about 18,200 reviews on the Google Play Store. Despite having being downloaded for more than one million times, many of its users have submitted complaints due to errors and failure in data submission.
Then, there is a complaint handling application 'Lapor!’ (Report!), which was initially managed by the Presidential Working Unit for Development Supervision and Control (UKP4) in the era of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY). Under President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s administration, its management was handed over to the Ministry of Administrative Reform and Bureaucratic Reform (PAN-RB). But now this application is not as effective as in the SBY era in resolving complaints related to bureaucracy and public services.
The thousands of government applications that now exist give an impression that every institution has been competing to create their own digital applications and to create new digital ecosystems - which not necessarily inclusive. It seems like the government only wants to look ‘tech savvy’.
The technology push grew after Jokowi issued a Presidential Instruction in August 2020 about five directions to accelerate digital transformation. The five directions are expansion of access, roadmap for digitizing the strategic sector, data integration, readiness of human resources, and funding schemes.
The Kominfo then put these directions into the six directions of the 2021-2024 Digital National Roadmap.
Unfortunately, so far Indonesia’s digital transformation policies – including the presidential instructions and the Kominfo roadmap – have been only limited to ‘instrumental transformation’. Instrumental transformation is a change in aspects of administration, information management, and forms of public services that have shifted to digital. In short, the government carries out public service activities, but in a different way, namely from conventional to digital.
The proliferation of tens of thousands of government applications is also a form of instrumental transformation, because it only focuses on infrastructure development – not on the public, as the people who will, or will not, feel the benefits of the transformation.
We have never seen any ‘systemic transformation’, which focuses on the quality aspect of the relationship between policymakers and the public. Activities needed for systematic transformation could, for example, take the form of public aspiration forum, facilitated by digital media, or public involvement in designing policies and services. These have been nowhere to find.
This is not the first time the government has implemented a digitalization policy that does not put the public first. During his first time in office, Jokowi instructed all government institutions at all levels to innovatively use digital communication media, such as social media, and leave old ways of public communication.
However, a study conducted by the first author about the government’s communication model on social media found that they only use the communication technology to build a good image and disseminate information.
Focus on inclusivity and personal data protection
The main goal of the digital ecosystem transformation in governance should be to provide better public services.
Therefore, the Super Apps, or whatever the apps is called, should not only provide features to submit complaints – which are often not being followed up – but also come up with interactive spaces for the public to give input, be involved in policy design, to participate, and supervise policy implementation.
Here are the three important points the government must consider before they move to create the eight Super Apps:
Inclusive: The government must ensure that the application will be inclusive. This means that all of the individuals, without exception, must get access to the technologies and the public services, including for people with disabilities.
Integrated: If the creation of the Super Apps aims to integrate all kinds of public services at the local government levels, the central government must ensure that the scheme is in sync with every regional regulation, especially when it comes to technical services.
Privacy protection: The most important point is about data privacy. The government must guarantee the protection of people’s personal information, data, messages, and documents circulating on the internet. It is important for the government to ensure that all personal information does not leak and fall into the hands of third parties – such as organizations or individuals who have no right to that.
Until now, almost all of the government’s applications are still failing to protect data of the users, whereas it is one of the basic rights of every citizen and has been guaranteed under Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR.
General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a rule issued by the European Union about the protection of privacy and data security, states that data privacy is part of the basic human rights. This regulation prioritizes individuals as data owners, to control the use and also retention of their data. In the United States (US), this is regulated under the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA)).
As of now, the personal data protection practices in the Europe and US use ‘opt-in’ and ‘opt-out’ approaches in granting and requesting consent. The data owner can give, or not give, consent related to access to technology services or sites.
Opt-in is the process of asking users to choose whether their personal data can be further processed or not. Without the users’ consent, the service providers can not collect and process their personal data.
Opt-out is an action users can take to make digital technology service providers stop collecting and processing their personal data.
This means that internet users can give service providers access to their personal data to be retrieved at any time, by anyone, for various purposes, and to be processed or used freely, until the users themselves terminate the access.
The PeduliLindung application is a good example of an application that does not protect its users’ personal data. This application not only requests users’ location data in real time, but also asks for other personal data, such as Population Identification Number (NIK), photo of National Identity Card (KTP) and other data that are not actually related to the COVID-19 contact tracking and tracing system.
Users should be given the options whether to give consent or not before their data is accessed, used and stored, even when it is for the benefit of public services. This kind of practice is a real example of how the government has been negligent and does not respect individuals’ privacy.
We underline that the provision of digital public services and the emergence of applications should not only focus on the quantity to ‘celebrate’ a new technological society. The digitalization must be based on the spirit of helping the community get guaranteed access to inclusive, balanced and impartial services.
The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.