NPC officials this week sent a letter to Facebook founder and chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg directing the company to submit information regarding the processing of Facebook data of some 1.18 million Filipino users affected by the incident.
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Philippines privacy body probes Facebook data breach
Janvic Mateo (The Philippine Star) - April 14, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The National Privacy Commission (NPC) has launched an investigation against social media giant Facebook over a massive data breach involving British consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica.

NPC officials this week sent a letter to Facebook founder and chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg directing the company to submit information regarding the processing of Facebook data of some 1.18 million Filipino users affected by the incident.

“The Philippines has exceeded user growth projections and now has more than 67 million active Facebook users. It is our duty to protect the data privacy interests of these users, and to provide those affected with avenues of redress,” read the four-page letter dated April 11.

The letter, signed by privacy commissioner Raymund Liboro and deputy commissioners Ivy Patdu and Leandro Angelo Aguirre, was sent to Facebook after Zuckerberg admitted that the company has been remiss of its duty to protect the personal data of its users.

The social media giant is currently under fire following reports that Cambridge Analytica was able to illegally harvest data from millions of users through a third party program.

Earlier data released by Facebook showed that the Philippines ranked second in terms of the number of users affected by the data breach, next to the United States which had data of 70 million users compromised. 

In its letter to Zuckerberg, the NPC said the response of the company has been generic and inadequate to satisfy the mounting concerns of Filipino users.

“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,” said the privacy body.

“We will look into Facebook’s adherence of the data processing principles of transparency, legitimate purpose, and proportionality required of every personal information controller processing the personal data of Filipinos. We will also examine whether Facebook upholds data subject rights,” it added.

The NPC officials directed Facebook to submit documentation on tools and specific processes performed on Filipino users on the social media platform, particularly on the use of artificial intelligence to process data.

“If any of these processes involves any outsourcing, please provide us with contracts entered into with such entities,” read the letter.

“We shall also require more information on Facebook’s data sharing with third parties. Kindly prove documentation on any legal ties that limit or regulate how this data is shared,” it added.

On the incident involving Cambridge Analytica, the NPC asked Zuckerberg to provide a more detailed timeline of the incidents relating to the discovery of abuse committed by the third party developer.

“We understand that you also developed tools to determine the existence of abuse in 2014, and that for some reason, these tools were not able to detect abuse on the part of Cambridge Analytica and other similar programs at other academic institutions,” said the NPC.

“Please provide us with that documentation and other evidence in your possession on any abuse of data from 2012 to the present,” it added.

The privacy body also asked Zuckerberg to submit forensic digital artifacts related to the incident.

Foreign intervention

Meanwhile, election monitor Kontra Daya called on the NPC to thoroughly investigate the improper sharing of more than one million Filipino Facebook users’ information with data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica, saying this is tantamount to foreign intervention in the country’s electoral exercise.

“Any invasion of privacy is unacceptable and should be investigated immediately. Any foreign intervention in our country’s electoral system should be opposed relentlessly,” Kontra Daya said in a statement issued yesterday.

Facebook had admitted to the improper sharing of information of around 87 million people’s Facebook accounts, 82 percent of which are from the US. Cambridge Analytica’s parent firm, Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL) also claimed to have helped in the election campaigns of Philippine Presidents Benigno Aquino III in 2010 and Rodrigo Duterte in 2016.

“One may argue that 1.2 million ‘compromised’ accounts is just a small percentage of the estimated 36.2 million Facebook users in the Philippines. But even then, it cannot be denied that the privacy of these 1.2 million Filipinos has been compromised when University of Cambridge Psychology Lecturer Aleksandr Kogan developed the app ‘thisisyourdigitallife’ and then shared the user data with SCL/Cambridge Analytica and Eunoia Technologies,” the group said.

Kontra Daya said the case should refresh the public’s memory of the massive leak of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) of the database, when its voter information was also leaked.

“If there is a lesson that can be learned from the controversy surrounding Cambridge Analytica and SCL, it is that there should be no foreign intervention in the country’s electoral exercise. Just like the Comelec, the political parties, lobby groups and public relations firms should be held accountable for the deals they make to ensure victory for their candidates or clients,” Kontra Daya said.

It is high time for the Senate and the House of Representatives to conduct an investigation into the role of Cambridge Analytica and SCL in the national elections, the group urged, further stating the importance to require Facebook to explain the full extent of the data breach involving users in the Philippines and if such data influenced the outcome of elections. 

It also called on political parties, lobby groups and PR firms to be more transparent in their operations especially during election season.

“While there are clear laws on election expenditures, it is imperative that partnerships with individuals and groups be disclosed and that foreigners be disallowed from intervening in the election campaigns in any way,” it added. 

“The people’s rights to privacy and suffrage cannot be compromised to satisfy the political agenda of the few. And as the 2019 senatorial and local elections roll around and we choose wisely to elect our next leaders, may we all be reminded that no one, most especially shady foreign entities, should be allowed to violate our rights,” the group stressed. – With Louella Desiderio, Rainier Allan Ronda, Paolo Romero

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