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PHL privacy watchdog opens investigation on Facebook

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In this file photo taken on March 25, 2015 Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at the F8 summit in San Francisco, California. — AFP

By Krista Angela M. Montealegre, National Correspondent

THE National Privacy Commission (NPC) has opened a formal inquiry into Facebook, Inc. following the social media giant’s admission that the company had been negligent in preventing data abuse.

Facebook had confessed that data of some 1.2 million users in the Philippines may have been wrongly shared with British consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica, which allegedly used the harvested data to aid the campaign of political clients.

In a letter to Facebook Founder and Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg on April 11, the privacy watchdog said it has launched a formal investigation into the social media platform “to determine whether there is unauthorized processing of personal data of Filipinos and other possible violations of the Data Privacy Act of 2012 (Republic Act No. 10173).”

“We write with concern as regards your admission that Facebook has been remiss in its duty to protect its users’ personal data. The identification of 1.18 million Filipinos who may have been affected by the Cambridge Analytica incident is alarming and may be a symptom of a deeper problem that could pose risks to Filipino Facebook users,” the NPC letter read.

The letter, sent via the company’s regional office based in Singapore, was signed by NPC Commissioner Raymund E. Liboro and Deputy Commissioners Ivy D. Patdu and Leandro Angelo Y. Aguirre.

The Philippine data privacy authority ordered Facebook to submit “information relevant to the processing of Facebook data of affected Filipinos, and how personal data is generally shared with third parties using (the) platform.”

The investigation will look into “Facebook’s adherence to the data processing principles of transparency, legitimate purpose, and proportionality required of every personal information controller processing the personal data of Filipinos.”

The NPC will also examine whether Facebook upholds data subject rights.

Facebook was asked to submit its response and the required documents to the NPC within 15 days from receipt of the letter.

Reuters quoted a Facebook spokesperson as saying the company is committed to protecting people’s information and is engaged with the Philippines’ privacy watchdog.

“We’ve recently made significant updates to make our privacy tools easier to find, restrict data access on Facebook, and make our terms and data policy clearer,” Facebook said.

One of the most active social media users in the world, Filipinos have the second-highest data collected by Cambridge Analytica.

Cambridge Analytica is accused of harvesting personal information from 87 million Facebook users, mostly from the United States, to develop techniques that led to Donald J. Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election. This set the stage for legal investigation and changes to the social network’s privacy policies.

The South China Morning Post reported last week that Strategic Communications Laboratories, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, had a hand in President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s landslide win in 2016 by rebranding him as a “strong, no-nonsense man of action.”

Presidential Spokesperson Harry L. Roque, Jr. had denied reports that Cambridge Analytica played a role in the campaign of Mr. Duterte, saying in a statement that the former mayor of Davao City received “an overwhelming mandate” from the Filipino people and “did not have to purchase information” from the consultancy firm.