'Ako Mismo' campaign questioned over privacy

by Kris Danielle Suarez, abs-cbnNEWS.com

Posted at May 05 2009 10:24 PM | Updated as of May 11 2009 02:39 AM

'Ako Mismo' campaign questioned over privacy 1

The "Ako Mismo" patriotism campaign is now being questioned for its "secrecy" and possible privacy and security concerns.

The campaign, which was introduced to the public on Sunday through television and newspaper ads, encourages people to sign up at the Ako Mismo website (www.akomismo.org), where they can then pledge what they will do to help the country.

Jaime Garchitorena, president of EduPro Philippines, an Intranet, Internet and e-Commerce solutions company, then wrote an email questioning the need for "detailed" personal information of the campaign, and cautioned people in supplying personal data.

Garchitorena told abs-cbnNEWS.com in a phone interview Tuesday it is not clear who really are the people behind the campaign, and what the campaign really is for and how it works.

The end of the television ads and videos uploaded on the internet showed that the ads were sponsored by the PLDT-Smart Foundation, DDB Cares, and the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP), but no one has come forward yet to claim that it owns the campaign, he said.

Garchitorena said that it is possible that any of these entities could be behind the campaign, but he said that because the campaign appears to be "well-coordinated" and amply-funded, the logical choice would be PLDT or Smart.

On Monday, rumors swirled that the Ako Mismo campaign is a step by PLDT chairman Manuel V. Pangilinan in preparation for a possible entry into politics. He denied the rumors, and said that the campaign is an "apolitical, cause-oriented, socially-beneficial project." He also distanced himself from the campaign "to wash away any political color from it."

'Too much' info

Garchitorena also questioned the amount of information being asked of users and how the site uses them.

"The amount of information they have asked is so detailed that they can track you down to your zip code and contact you any time," Garchitorena said in the email.

Among the information being asked, aside from the name and email of users, are ZIP codes, province of residence, gender, profile (whether student, employee or OFW), and date of birth - all of which are required and "way too much" information to be supplied, he said.

"In all my years of signing up for information, I have never had a site require so much information as required fields," he said.

The site does not make clear how the information will be used, leading to the possibility that the privacy of the individuals who supplied the information could be compromised, Garchitorena said during the interview.

Campaign tool?

Garchitorena said that it is possible that the information collected by the campaign could be used for election campaigns.

For one, the people or entities behind the campaign could "sell" the information to political entities, who could then use the information for a voter mapping database, for statistical analysis in marketing campaigns, and for explicit campaigning purposes.

He said that even if the information won't be sold or provided to other parties, the site "frees" itself of the responsibility over users' personal information in the event the site is hacked and all information is acquired by the hacker, as stated in the site's privacy policy.

The site's privacy policy also states that they may use the informaton provided to "contact you," "remember" your online profile and prefences, and help find information "relevant" to the user based on their interests.

"In other words, they can push information to you which is an important tool in making sure that you can receive even unwanted campaign messages," his email said.

As of this writing (May 5), the site boasts of more than 50,000 "pledges". It is not clear if this translates into number of users.

Closed

Garchitorena and other internet users and bloggers have also questioned why most parts of the site, even its "About Us" and "Contact Us" page, are not accessible to visitors not yet registered to the site.

The Privacy Policy reads: Providing personal information on the Ako Mismo web site is optional. If you choose not to provide personal information, you can still browse and use the Ako Mismo site, but you will not be able to carry out certain actions.

He said that this means visitors can still access the site even if they don't sign up, but he said that most of the site, except for its privacy policy and terms and conditions pages, are inaccessible if the visitor is not logged on.

Garchitorena likened it to entering a shoe store, where you can only try out a pair of shoes by buying it, but will not be able to return the pair if it doesn't fit at all.

Other bloggers also shared this observation, and even abs-cbnNEWS.com staff who tried to visit the site was only able to access the homepage, the privacy policy, and the terms and conditions page.

abs-cbnNEWS.com tried contacting the Ako Mismo campaign, but the "Contact Us" page also required visitors to register to access it.

The privacy policy also states that the campaign can change the policies, without prior consent from the users.

Point

Garchitorena said that though it is not yet clear what the campaign really aims to do - it could be a legitimate website or a "malicious" campaign - all he wants is to clear the structure on how personal information of users are collected, stored, and used by the people behind the campaign to protect the privacy of individuals who join the site.

He also said that what he fears the most, aside from the misuse of personal data of users, is that the campaign merely lures excited users, mostly the youth, into joining and pledging, but in the end, no follow through is done.

This could lead to disappointment and disillusionment among the youth, he said, and could lead to them eventually not joining and participating in legitimate campaigns.

He said it could damage the reputation of youth advocacy campaigns in general, affecting legitimate groups that do not have the same amount of resources to lure new members as Ako Mismo has at present.

In the end, Garchitorena said the point of the scrutiny is the privacy and security of users' information, Garchitorena said, saying that he would rather be over-cautious and warn users of what could possibly happen to their personal data.