There is this idea called “six degrees of separation” and it goes like this — all people are six, or fewer, social connections from each other. This means that you may know someone, who knows someone, who knows another, who personally knows the Queen of England. Whilst it is tedious to actually find out each connection, with Facebook and its users, it is easier. In fact, Facebook conducted a study, “Three and a half degrees of separation”, that proved that it is actually less than 4 (3.57 to be precise). Yes, that is how connected Facebook users are to each other.
Why am I mentioning this? Well, in the Philippines, with a huge majority of Filipinos are Facebook users, thanks to anti-net neutrality practices of telcos, Smart and Globe, it means that there are fewer than 4 social connections from each other. Your Facebook friend has a friend, who also has a friend who personally knows 2018 Miss Universe Catriona Gray! Cool, right? Yes, until this happened — Reuters reports that Facebook provides access to users’ “text-based status updates, shared links, event posts, Stories feature uploads, videos and photos, including user-posted screenshots of chats on Facebook’s various messaging apps” to contractors, yes — human contractors, to read and label/tag/categorize for later processing by Facebook’s AI algorithms. And yes, these contractors have access to users’ names and other profile information.
You may think so what? Well, for one thing, one of the contractors is WiPro, an outsourcing firm that has presence in the Philippines. Yes, they employ Filipinos! Some of these Filipinos are involved in this particular Facebook contract. Do you see where I am leading to? Well, if there is less than 4 degrees of separation on Facebook users, it means that these contractors probably knows you, or knows someone who knows you! Yes, they have access to the names of these users whose posts, regardless of whether they’re private, restricted to select few recipients, or public, are being read, labelled, tagged and classified. So, whatever secret you shared to someone or a select group, it is not really a secret because someone from WiPro might already know about it!
Now, if this is not an outright violation of the Data Privacy Act — where Facebook users were not informed that their personal data are being read without consent — then I don’t know what is. I have yet to hear or read anything about the National Privacy Commission really doing something to protect Filipinos’ data from Facebook. And oh, I did not even mention the other violation where Facebook read and collected users’ address-book without consent! C’mon, NPC, we need you on our side, and we need you to publicly announce to the whole world that you are doing your job of protecting Filipinos!