Privacy issues
SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - December 27, 2019 - 12:00am

The day after Christmas is a slow shopping day. So I took the opportunity yesterday to buy some stuff that I failed to get during the Christmas shopping rush.

I was told by the cashier in a supermarket that I was entitled to an electronic raffle. The supermarket used to hand out raffle rewards – usually grocery items on promo – instantly upon presentation of the receipt, so off I went to claim my reward.

This time, I was asked to fill out a form, which I was told would be included in the electronic raffle. The form is bigger than the usual raffle stub, and no wonder: it wants not only the consumer’s name, address, birthday and contact number – and not just the landline, but the mobile phone number. It also wants the email address and Facebook account.

There was no instant raffle reward. Instead, I was told that any notification for a raffle win would be done electronically.

In another store chain where I recently renewed my discount card, I was also asked for my mobile phone number, ostensibly so they could send a one-time PIN to complete the transaction. I asked the store clerk why a PIN sent to my cell phone was needed for a simple card renewal. She didn’t have an answer.

I warned her that if I ever received any marketing notification from their company after I gave them my phone number, I would file a complaint against them before the National Privacy Commission and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). The NPC defines data privacy as “the right of an individual not to have private information about himself disclosed, and to live freely from surveillance and intrusion.”

The clerk then said she would input in my renewal form that I didn’t want such notifications. It was a virtual admission that the marketing messages would have been sent. But she didn’t inform me beforehand that there was such an option.

I gave them the number of my mother, who doesn’t answer calls or texts on her cell phone. The PIN was sent, I got my new card, and so far, my mother has received no marketing messages from the store chain.

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Maybe I’m old-fashioned, or just plain cranky, but I value my privacy, and I resent the casual way that people and businesses these days demand personal information from me. And it drives me up the wall when I’m told that I have to give my mobile phone number just so I can complete a purchase or gain entry to an event where I would be a paying customer. I almost always just dump the purchase or leave the event.

I can understand the need for providing detailed personal data when it comes to banking transactions, or for medical purposes and official documents.

For other matters, however, I proceed with caution. As much as possible, I avoid paying online using my credit card. Several times my credit card provider had to issue a new card to me after detecting suspicious transactions. Always, this happened after the rare times that I used my credit card for an online purchase.

The last time, my card was used to pay for a Netflix subscription, with the transaction registered in Europe on a date when I was in Manila and hadn’t been abroad in months.

The big companies are usually more careful in protecting customers against credit card hackers. I haven’t had problems so far in paying online using my credit card for accommodations in reputable hotels, railway and bus fares in advanced economies.

But a number of them also bug you with digital marketing. Although you can unsubscribe to their notifications, it’s still a hassle.

In our country, you can click a thousand times on “unsubscribe” icons on your phone, and the marketing promos will still keep coming from the same groups.

I’m not sure if the NPC and DTI can in fact step in to save consumers from digital marketing and other unwanted messages.

There is a Data Privacy Act, Republic Act 10173, passed in 2012, which classifies even a person’s age as “sensitive personal information” along with race, marital status, health condition and sexual inclination. Yet the collection of such information is done freely by private businesses, and only those aware of privacy rights resist or complain.

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Among those who grew up with intuitive knowledge of cell phones and other gadgets, I’m not discounting the possibility that they actually don’t consider receiving such messages an invasion of privacy.

I’m not even sure about what their concept of privacy might be. In my youth, we kept diaries under lock and key, away from the prying eyes of others particularly adults. Shops in those days in fact sold diaries with decorative locks.

These days, it seems kids post everything they think, feel, see, eat and experience online, including their sexual encounters, for the whole world to see. Of course it makes them vulnerable to bullying and to online sexual predators, but it seems such problems haven’t done much to change youthful views about privacy.

I know parents whose admonition these days to their teenage children is not to do anything that would land them on YouTube in an unpleasant light.

Even during the recent Southeast Asian Games, one of the athletes became the subject of controversy over his nude video chat that went viral.

There were two common reactions to that issue among members of the older generation. One was, why allow yourself to be video recorded naked online, where there is always the possibility of data interception? (I must stress that this is not a generational thing; nudists and free love were popular even back in the 1960s, and many didn’t care if they were photographed naked. Also, we have a politician who gained notoriety for recording a video of himself naked with a “bold star” decades ago.)

The second reaction was, do kids who grew up in the age of YouTube and Instagram care if their nude images, recorded with their consent, go viral?

And yet surely everyone values a measure of privacy and wants protection not only of personal information but also from unwanted intrusions, whether by hackers or digital marketers.

The question is whether the country’s regulatory environment can provide that kind of protection.

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