PH’s privacy agency opens investigation on Facebook

Published April 14, 2018, 12:05 AM

by Mario Casayuran and Vanne Elaine Terrazola

By Bernie Cahiles Magkilat

The Philippines’ National Privacy Commission (NPC) is opening an investigation on Faceboook following the admission of its chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg that data of 87 million or so Facebook users, including social media active Filipinos, was improperly shared with political consultancy Cambridge Analytica.

NPC logo
NPC logo

In a formal letter, NPC ordered Zuckerberg to submit various documents, and full information on the specific information fields exposed to data scientist Dr. Aleksandr Kogan and Cambridge Analytica on the part of the affected users to establish the scope and impact of the incident to Filipino data subjects.

The NPC also required Zuckerberg to submit documentation and other evidence in possession on any abuse of data from 2012 to the present.

Zuckerberg was given by NPC 15 days from receipt of the letter to submit the documents. “Failure on your end to comply with these requirements will prompt us to take further corrective actions to protect the interests of Filipino data subjects,” stated the letter dated April 11, 2018.

An estimated 1.8 million Filipino FB users may have been improperly exposed to Analytica. This year, Filipino FB users are expected to reach 36.2 million, up from 29.88 million in 2016. This makes Philippines the world’s top social media user. FB is the most popular social media network worldwide with more than 2 billion monthly active users.

Data harvest

“We are launching an investigation into Facebook to determine whether there is unauthorized processing of personal data of Filipinos, and other possible violations of the Data Privacy Act of 2012,” an excerpt of the letter sent to Zuckerberg stated. The letter was signed by Privacy Commissioner Raymund Enriquez Liboro and deputy commissioners Ivy Patdu and Leandro Aguirre.

The decision to launch a formal probe on Facebook was reached Thursday to seek more concrete actions from Facebook.

The privacy watchdog will particularly look into how Facebook shares the personal data of Filipino users with third parties.

It will also address the bigger picture of protecting the data privacy rights of the millions of Filipinos who use Facebook in their daily lives.

Zuckerberg admitted before lawmakers during a congressional hearing at the US Congress that his own personal data was among those improperly shared with political consultancy Cambridge Analytica.

Facebook has been consumed by this scandal since it came to light that millions of users’ personal information was wrongly harvested from the website by Cambridge Analytica, a political consultancy that has counted US President Donald Trump’s election campaign among its clients.

President Duterte maintained he ran a “simple” campaign in the 2016 elections which he won by landslide without the help of Cambridge Analytica.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, the former treasurer of Duterte’s campaign, declared “he did not pay anything to Cambridge Analytica nor did he transact with them.”

Monday notice

Starting Monday, the 87 million users who might have had their data shared with Cambridge Analytica will get a detailed message on their news feeds. Facebook says most of the affected users (more than 70 million) are in the U.S., though there are over a million each in the Philippines, Indonesia and the U.K.

In addition, all 2.2 billion Facebook users will receive a notice titled “Protecting Your Information” with a link to see what apps they use and what information they have shared with those apps. If they want, they can shut off apps individually or turn off third-party access to their apps completely.

Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie previously estimated that more than 50 million people were compromised by a personality quiz that collected data from users and their friends.

That Facebook app, called “This is Your Digital Life,” was a personality quiz created in 2014 by an academic researcher named Aleksander Kogan, who paid about 270,000 people to take it. The app vacuumed up not just the data of the people who took it, but also – thanks to Facebook’s loose restrictions – data from their friends, too, including details that they hadn’t intended to share publicly.

Facebook later limited the data apps can access, but it was too late in this case. (With reports from Genalyn D. Kabiling and AP)