2022 Philippine Elections

Ilocos mobile users fear breach of data privacy with political text spam

John Michael Mugas
Ilocos mobile users fear breach of data privacy with political text spam
Vice President Leni Robredo’s spokesperson Barry Gutierrez says their campaign has no such text operation

ILOCOS NORTE, Philippines —Several Ilocos residents receiving political spam messages allegedly from 2022 presidential candidates fear a possible data privacy breach.

Users who received the unwanted messages said they started receiving these on Sunday, March 6.  The messages claimed to endorse either Ferdinand Marcos Jr. or Vice President Leni Robredo.

Mei Kriezl Ulit, who received a political text on March 8, Tuesday, said that she sees nothing wrong with the political messages they received. But she wondered how the sender knew her mobile number, fearing that her personal data may have been compromised.

Another Facebook user, who asked for privacy, raised several questions:  “How did these people get our numbers? What extent of our privacy do they have? Who are the people behind this?”

Numbers which circulate the text message endorsing Robredo use the “0991-849-xxx” format. The 0991 mobile prefix is linked to a Dito SIM card.

Text blasts endorsing Marcos Jr. use a specialized “ILOCANDIA” sender identification.

Rappler tried to call at least three of the mobile numbers that sent the messages for Robredo but all these could not be reached. Rappler could not do the same for the specialized alphanumeric “Ilocandia” identification.

The mobile number of an individual is considered as personal information protected by the Data Privacy Law (DPL) because when these are combined with other information, the same would identify the person.

The full text message promoting Robredo reads:  “Si VP Leni lamang ang may kakayahan, talino at tapang para maging Presidente at Commander-in-Chief natin. #AngAtinAyAtin.” The text message contains a shortened Facebook link leading to a post of actor Edu Manzano endorsing Robredo’s candidacy.

Robredo’s spokesperson Barry Gutierrez on Tuesday disowned the spam messages. “The campaign does not have any such text operation, and this is the first time I am hearing of this,” he said.

The text blasts for Marcos Jr contained this: “Tayo ay magkaisa para sa kaunlaran! Sabay-sabay tayong babangon muli,” an apparent reference to his campaign messaging of “unity.”

The messages contained a link to one of Marcos Jr.’s political advertisements posted on his official Facebook page on January 12, while the others had a link to his official YouTube blog.

The camp of Marcos Jr. has not yet responded to Rappler’s request for comment. We will update this story once they respond.

In October last year, the National Privacy Commission (NPC) said that mobile users should give consent and must have the freedom to choose what kind of messages they want to receive, especially when it comes to political advertisements.

NPC also reminded telecommunication companies that they must properly handle the personal data of citizens in line with their obligations and liabilities under DPL especially during this election time. – Rappler.com

John Michael Mugas is a Luzon-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship.

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