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Brainstorm: The Next Generation | How’s your data?

“For verification sir, what is your birthday?” or “What is your billing address?” are questions that are familiar to anyone who has used telephone service hotlines to make inquiries, report a problem, or otherwise transact with service provider companies for anything, from credit cards, cellular phone accounts, banks and the like.

What if someone else knew your credit card number as well as your birthday or your billing address? Could that someone pretend to be you and, through the same service hotline numbers, access or, worse, make changes to the information in your credit card account, for example? YES, OF COURSE!

It is quite shocking that most people do not realize the danger of being careless with their personal information. People regularly, and readily, fill up online forms to create accounts for anything on the internet from Facebook or Netflix to online shopping accounts without even bothering to read the website’s Privacy Policy. The sad fact is that most people don’t even know what a privacy policy is, or even if they do, they just skip reading it to get to the “good stuff”, the movies, music or easy shopping that they are signing up for in the first place.

Without realizing it, people, on a daily basis, are authorizing online companies and services to keep their personal information, access their online accounts or even, SO MUCH WORSE, share or sell that information or account access to other parties.

Have you ever wondered why your Facebook account or Google searches regularly show advertisements that seem to be tailored to your wants and needs? Have you ever felt like you were specifically targeted by these ads?

The truth is that you probably were! Data gathering and processing is a BILLION DOLLAR INDUSTRY! Why, you may ask? Simply because a whole lot more money can be made through the use of that processed data.

Going back Facebook and Google, my “home” feeds regularly feature ads for action figures, computer and phone gadgets and accessories, as well as photo editing applications because these are usual subjects for my Google searches, my “likes”, and my “views” online. I wonder what some of my friends have been clicking on because they keep getting “enlargement pill” ads on their profiles?

Online ads are just a small part of it, although I would not call the 1 BILLION DOLLARS PER QUARTER that Facebook makes from advertising revenue as small.

The fact of the matter is that, more and more, what we see, read, or do online shapes the way we think, interact or even feel about many parts of our lives. We used to think that it was just broadcast media that had this effect but the internet is much more potent and thus, more dangerous.

Presently, there is quite a lot of controversy about how the Trump campaign successfully utilized targeted ads based on the processing of voter information gathered online. The same is true with the results of the Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom.

On the other hand, in our own corner of the world, it cannot be denied that upset victory of President Rody Duterte in 2016, over better organized and substantially better funded opponents, was very much influenced by social media.

Identity theft is yet another growing danger arising from carelessness with personal data online. While most reported identity theft cases still happen in the United States, the increase in the number of incidents elsewhere, even in the Philippines, is alarming.

The government has been trying to do something about it. As early as 2012, the Data Privacy Act was passed and, with it, the National Privacy Commission was established. More importantly, the essence of the said law is to make government agencies and instrumentalities, as well as businesses, and other institutions that gather and keep the personal information of our citizens more responsible for the security of the data.

In fact, under the said law, people who, whether intentionally or through negligence, cause the improper or illegal gathering, processing, disposal or unauthorized access to personal data can face stiff penalties of imprisonment and/or fines.

It will probably take me another dedicated article to discuss even just the salient features of this law so I will leave this for another time.

What is important for now is the imminent need to address the lack of public awareness about the dangers and pitfalls of people being utterly careless about their personal information especially online.

By way of analogy, I cannot help but remember someone I know complaining that she lost a substantial amount of money from her ATM account when she misplaced her ATM card. It turned out that she wrote her PIN number at the back of the card. She did say that she repeatedly changed her PIN number but, each time, she would strike out the old number at the back of her card and write the new one so she would not forget.

Just like her, if, in the future, we, individually or collectively, should fall prey to the many dangers of sharing our personal information online, would we not have only ourselves to blame?

So again, I ask, HOW IS YOUR DATA?

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