NPC opens probe on Facebook as ICT group calls for accountability

The National Privacy Commission (NPC) announced on Friday, April 13, that it is opening an investigation on Faceboook following Mark Zuckerberg’s admission of the company’s faults in the Cambridge Analytica data scandal that affected Filipino Facebook users.

In a formal letter addressed to Zuckerberg, the NPC is requiring Facebook to submit a number of documents relevant to the case, to establish the scope and impact of the incident to Filipino data subjects.

“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 2011,” an excerpt of the letter sent to Zuckerberg reads.

The letter was signed by NPC commissioner Raymund Enriquez Liboro and deputy commissioners Ivy Patdu and Leandro Aguirre.

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.

On Thursday, the NPC decided to launch a formal investigation to seek more concrete actions from Facebook.

The investigation was commenced as the Computer Professionals’ Union (CPU) called on the Philippine government to seriously look into allegations of interference in Philippine elections done by political analytics firm SCL group.

“We also demand accountability both from its American subsidiary Cambridge Analytica and social media giant Facebook over the breach into the user data of 87 million FB users, 1.2 million of which are from the Philippines,” the group said in a statement.

According to the ICT group, reports released by the South China Morning Post and Quartz both point to the British firm having a hand in the campaign messaging of candidates in the past 2013 and 2015 Philippine elections, using a technique called psychographic modeling that combines psychology with data mining.

These allegations, CPU said, should be seriously addressed on two fronts: first, amid a troubling pattern of foreign intervention in local polls, and secondly, in the light of privacy breaches being committed against Filipinos by firms, agencies, and digital platforms.

“SCL group’s American subsidiary Cambridge Analytica has scraped the private data of Filipino FB users ostensibly to sway votes in favor of paying clients– all troubling patterns of foreign influence over a sovereign exercise that may violate both the Omnibus Election Code and the Fair Elections Act of 2013,” it said.

“This incident also underscores how our public information systems and data infrastructures are being contracted out to foreign firms with no firm obligations to transparently disclose when and what data is being accessed, and where and how it is stored, processed, transmitted, and securely deleted,” CPU said.

The group said even with the passage of the Data Privacy Act in 2011, there is no firm accountability being exacted from companies and agencies alike.

CPU noted that incidents like the Comeleak of 2016, the massive 2016 Uber hack, and more recently the Cambridge Analytica data leak has shown the vulnerability of private user data — now being considered the oil of the 21st century — and the need to enforce firm regulation and punishments for those that violate data privacy.

“We call that social media giant Facebook be held accountable for granting unauthorized access to the private data of 1.2 million Filipino FB users. We expect nothing less from the National Privacy Commission, who should step up in its role as government regulator on behalf of Filipinos, in a country deemed the social media capital of the world.”

Comment on this post