Caveat emptor redux

Published April 15, 2018, 10:00 PM

by Mario Casayuran and Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Atty. Gregorio Larrazabal
Atty. Gregorio Larrazabal

By Atty. Gregorio Larrazabal


Last November, 2017, I wrote a column titled, “Caveat Emptor.” I discussed the plan of Facebook to enter into an agreement with the government in building an ultra-high-speed broadband infrastructure called the Luzon Bypass Infrastructure. The project is supposed to have a spectrum bandwidth nearly equal to that of Globe and PLDT combined. A couple of news articles came out about the project but it eventually died down after a couple of days.

I expressed some concerns at that point, especially regarding data. I had openly wondered on what happens when the project is completed, and people start using the infra. Specifically, “who will have control over the structure” (And I’m not only talking about the physical assets, which we can see with our eyes; more important is the data that such project will generate)? Who has control over the data that uses such facilities? Who will have access to it? To what extent is access allowed to such data? What are the limits to the use of the data?”

I also asked “What are the arrangements for the data generated by the private sector using such facilities? Who has access to the data generated? Who has the keys to the data generated and collected? What are the protocols to be followed? What safeguards are there to make sure the data harvested will not be sold to third parties, or used for Facebook’s marketing for their customers or advertisers?”

At that time, not too many people paid much attention to the concerns I raised.

Yet, five months after, we have Facebook embroiled in a huge controversy in several countries all over the world. Specifically with regard to the data Facebook harvests from people who use the social network. I used to download data of my Facebook account, just to make sure I have a record of it, but I was surprised when Facebook allowed its users to download all the data they had of each user. I discovered that Facebook had about 3GB of data of me. That’s huge!

When filing up forms or answering typical name-address-email address questions, we take for granted the amount of information that they get from us. Seemingly insignificant information about our likes, dislikes are often taken for granted as nothing more than simple and inconsequential queries. But by now, we ought to be aware of what these kinds of information say about us once patterns are studied and once the analytics people start doing their job. Irrelevant and random facts that we reveal about ourselves actually translate to deeper analysis of what influences us, what we prefer, and what we are inclined to do or should I say vote for.

Sadly, social media and what should be a way of connecting family and friends has become a manipulative tool to influence our decision-making process. It may be subtle but it is there.

What makes it worse is that there are individuals and companies out there which are openly offering this “data harvesting service” as a competitive edge in winning elections. Guess what? Gathering data, analyzing preferences, and plotting trends are achieved through one thing and one thing only. The patent invasion of our privacy.

As to fake news, we cannot and shouldn’t expect Facebook or any other social media platform to be the almighty police of content and information. However, they have to be responsible in ensuring that the gateway to us is more than sufficiently armed with all the necessary safeguards. Access to users is not a universal privilege. It is something that we give with full and knowing consent.

Facebook users should be more cautious in sharing posts that may promote any kind of potentially inaccurate news. Also,avoid answering random and deceptively innocent “quizzes” and “surveys” which may provide access to your data to entities, without you even knowing about it. This should serve as a wake-up call to everyone glued to social media that they should seriously and diligently check their privacy settings and access by third-party apps to their private information and files. Caveat emptor, always.