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Home Opinion Analysis The #DeleteFacebook bandwagon

The #DeleteFacebook bandwagon

LITO AVERIA

#DeleteFacebook has been trending. Are you ready to ride the bandwagon and abandon Facebook?

The #DeleteFacebook is a call for users to boycott Facebook after news broke that Cambridge Analytica (CA) illegitimately harvested data of at least 50 million users from Facebook and passed it on to its parent company, Strategic Communications Laboratories (SCL), to target voters in the 2016 US elections. Latest Facebook report shows data of about 87 million users, including 1.2 million Filipinos, had been pilfered. It could be more.


Facebook has become part of the daily lives of netizens, especially Filipino users enjoying free Facebook basics on the mobile phones. The social media platform has allowed family members and friends to get reconnected after years of separation. It would be difficult for netizens to simply leave Facebook and look for alternatives with at least the same features offered by the social media platform.

The platform has evolved in the past two decades or so, transforming into a primary source of news and information. It has also been used by businesses for sales and marketing purposes. Individuals and corporations have maintained contacts with their customers via the platform.

On creating an account on Facebook, for example, you are asked to provide your personal information: name, birth date, and an email address. You have the option to provide more information about yourself: the schools you attended, your work history, your hobbies, and others. The data provided on sign-up are called demographic data and this is what we voluntarily give Facebook.

Unbeknownst to many social media users is that their activities on the internet can be tracked and are actually being tracked. On Facebook, for instance, a user may react to certain posts or a user may post a comment about a post and/or share said post to others. The user may also opt to join certain groups with specific interests. All these are recorded. All these give an indication of your behavior on the net – your interests, your emotional reactions, your habits, etc., and perhaps even reveal your likely thoughts on certain issues. The data sets are called psychographic data which may be used to generate sophisticated profile models of individuals or groups.

Ever notice how advertising feeds are specifically tailored and targeted at you? For example, you may want to look for places to stay via AirBnB as you prepare for your trip with family or friends. A lot of the places you will find on AirBnB have Facebook accounts. So, you click to check on those. Don’t be surprised that the next time you log in to your Facebook account, you will suddenly find AirBnB advertising feeds.

CA styles itself as an organization that “use[s] data analytics and behavioral science to understand every individual”. (https://ca-commercial.com) The company boasts that it is a “global leader in data-driven campaigning with over 25 years of experience, supporting more than 100 campaigns across five continents. Within the United States alone, we have played a pivotal role in winning presidential races as well as congressional and state elections.” (https://ca-political.com)

It appears that CA harvested personal and historical surfing data of Facebook users without consent. Unknown to affected Facebook users, the harvested data was processed for purposes of psychographic profiling and behavioral micro-targeting, techniques that CA is proud of doing. Using profiles of individuals or groups, the company boasts of creating specific messages that a targeted individual or group is likely to respond to.

Data on about 1.2 million Filipino Facebook users have landed on CA. There appears to be a violation of Philippine law, specifically, Republic Act 10173, or the Data Privacy Act. First, no explicit consent was solicited from affected Filipino Facebook users. Second, affected Filipino Facebook users were not informed of the purpose of the data collection. Could CA be held to account? That’s a challenge for the National Privacy Commission.

CA CEO Alexander Nix was in the country in 2015 (see: https://www.manilatimes.net/text-emails-to-decide-future-polls-expert/184045/). Was CA or its parent company, SCL Group, involved in campaigns in the 2016 national and local elections? If so, isn’t this a violation of Philippine election laws?

Was data on 1.2 million Filipino Facebook users used to generate profiles of the data subjects for purposes of the 2016 elections?

Was Facebook remiss in providing for the necessary safeguards that would have protected the data collected? Facebook claims a breach of trust by CA and has suspended its access to the social media platform. Given the suspension, it appears that CA had legitimate access to Facebook user profiles and that legitimate access was exploited. It appears that Facebook has not done enough to safeguard user privacy. Can Facebook be held to account under Philippine law?

In the meantime, the National Privacy Commission, in a press release dated April 6, 2018, “call[s] on Filipino Facebook users to be circumspect in using the platform and exercise online personal vigilance. Users should minimize the personal information they share online and maximize the use of existing privacy protection features and tools. We encourage the public to exercise a new level of care about their privacy and to take part in forming the future of Facebook in the country.”

If users do not wish to ride the #DeleteFacebook bandwagon, should they instead slow down or avoid liking, sharing and commenting on posts?

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