Why Filipinos should care about their personal data online

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After downloading my stored data on the site I've been a member since 2004 I was presented with an enormous amount of personal details that have been collected about me over the years | Photo from CNNMoney/Getty Images

Highlights

  • Identity theft, loss of reputation most dangerous of risks – Liboro
  • NPC: Guard names, e-mail addresses, and mobile numbers
  • Netizens advised to change passwords regularly
  • Netizens can tweak privacy settings and app access on Facebook

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 16) — Abuse of online data can have real-life repercussions, National Privacy Commission (NPC) Chairman Raymund Liboro warned on Monday.

"This matter about Cambridge Analytica [means] personal information could be used to form or influence behavior," he said.

Cambridge Analytica is a British political consulting firm that worked on the 2016 campaign of United States President Donald Trump. A third party developer, Aleksandr Kogan, gathered the personal data of 87 million Facebook users through a personality quiz and sold it to the firm.

The information was then used by Cambridge Analytica to develop techniques that reportedly influenced  U.S. voters. 

The data scandal affected over 1.18 million Filipino Facebook users and shined a light on how technology can "manipulate data for a firm to achieve its objectives," the commissioner said.

Cambridge Analytica's parent company, Strategic Communications Laboratories, claimed to have helped an unnamed client win the 2016 presidential election in the Philippines. President Rodrigo Duterte has denied any dealings with the company.

On April 11, the NPC wrote to Facebook asking for details of the data breach which it was investigating. Liboro said they have yet to receive a reply.

Related: PH privacy body to investigate massive Facebook data scandal

But do Facebook users or netizens, in general, even understand the dangers of a personal data leak?

Cybercrime law expert JJ Disini told CNN Philippines' On the Record the answer is no.

"The truth is that people don't really understand threats to their privacy because it's so abstract," he said. "So you know that it's happening, but because it doesn't present itself to you, you don't see the threat."

Liboro spoke to CNN Philippines' The Source and broke down the harm and risks involved in personal data leaks.

1.  Discrimination

A 2013 United States-based study found Facebook likes could accurately predict personal information — including a person's race, sexual orientation, and political orientation.

Related: How Facebook 'likes' predict race, religion, and sexual orientation

Liboro warned a data leak could lead to discrimination if a third party had access to the political affiliation, religious beliefs, or ethnic origin of netizens.

People could be marginalized "because somebody has decided (they) will not provide or issue this service (to you)," he warned.

2.  Identity theft

When credentials and identifiers are used to pose as someone else, this is identity theft. Liboro warned that this can lead  to "direct financial losses."

An example of this is a modus where subscriber identity module or SIM cards are replicated. The fake SIM is used to retrieve a person's personal identification number (PIN) code, through which bank accounts can be accessed. Another method, Liboro noted, is the use of stolen phones to tap into credit card details.

He advised the public to guard their "triumvirate" of personal information, referring to their name, e-mail address, and mobile number.

"This already is enough to form a starter kit for cybercriminals," Liboro stressed.

3.  Loss of reputation

This risk involves the "unauthorized use of personal data" in a way that could diminish the credibility of the netizen.

A concrete example is the use of a netizen's picture in a pornography site.

"When it's out there, it's impossible to retrieve it, and be assured that somebody will erase it," Liboro said.

4.  Unfair decision making

Liboro said netizens may also be cast into a stereotype based on their online profiles.

Unfair decision-making happens "when other parties decide who you are and decide what you should have based on your online actions, without face to face validation of your beliefs and point of view," he explained.

The risks include losing out on a loan, a job, or other opportunities on the sole basis of personal data retrieved online.

Steps to stay secure online

Liboro said the NPC had four primary demands from Facebook. The agency said users of the social media site must be:

  • provided a "clear choice" whether or not to disclose their data;
  • given a "fair and lawful notice" of access to their data;
  • assured of optimum protection of their data; and
  • given a "clear pathway of address of grievance," where Facebook responds immediately to their concerns.

In the meantime, Liboro advised netizens not to panic and adjust their privacy settings.

"This time, you have to be aware of what you're getting into. Try to read the privacy policies, the privacy terms of use... (Try) to be aware of privacy settings and adjust them accordingly," he said.

Netizens should also practice "proper personal data hygiene," which includes regularly changing passwords to their accounts. This would "lessen the chances of cybercriminals accessing your information without your authority," he said.

Facebook users can also restrict access to their data from third party developers' apps. This can be done by tweaking their settings.

It was also revealed that Facebook had been gathering Android users' data — including calls and text messages — outside of the app. Android users can opt out of this function by unsyncing their contact list from Facebook.

WATCH: How to find out what Facebook knows about you

The Philippines is one of the leading countries that use social media. According to a 2018 report by the UK-based consultancy firm We Are Social, there are over 67 million Facebook accounts in the country.

But, Liboro maintains, "Privacy should not be the price to pay to be on social media."

CNN Philippines Senior Digital Producer Lara Tan and Digital Producer Ver Marcelo contributed to this story.