BBM administration should stop personalized text scams now | Inquirer Opinion
Sharp Edges

BBM administration should stop personalized text scams now

/ 08:00 AM September 06, 2022

Finding your own complete name within spam messages on your cellphone is today’s real and biggest horror story. How did unknown senders, acquire your full name, cellphone number and other information?  Are these personal data openly available now, to the public, including identity thieves and criminal elements?

With your cell number, these spammers can track your specific locations, or they can clone your number and messages and then transact business using your name. They can even kill you if they are gun for hire people. No wonder, numerous hacking incidents are thriving on our social media accounts (Facebook or even e-mails), and many of us have issued individual disclaimers. Why is this going on? Can the government do something about it?

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The easiest way of minimizing or eliminating these SMS spams and illegal messages is the congressional approval of the proposed SIM REGISTRATION LAW, However, it has languished for many years unending legislative debates, and heavily opposed because of “invasion of privacy” issues.

The government thru the National Telecommunications Commission and National Privacy Commission held a recent meeting with telco providers who promised to stop the proliferation of “unsolicited text messages from unknown senders.  PLDT claims it has blocked 23M text messages in four days, while Globe Telecoms says 138 million spam and scam text messages were removed in January to June this year. But the fact remains, unregistered SMS numbers are still untraceable

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I heard that NPC will be holding a “public webinar” tomorrow, Wednesday where the “risk and harm” of receiving these text messages and “best practices” will be discussed. They asked the public to be vigilant in protecting their personal data online or offline.

Easy for them to say, but in this digital world, many of us voluntarily registered our names and numbers to access free Wi-Fi establishments, loyalty card memberships, bank accounts, and various government and private websites. We did it because we believed that our “private information” other “personal data” will not be released to the public.  We knew that these entities are responsible and committed to protect our privacy.  We trusted them, and now they lied.

Mon Liboro, founder of Private and Security by Design Thinktank, however, says that even without the proposed law, government can move to regulate the people behind these “unsolicited messages”.  As former chair of the National Privacy Commission, he says regulators should zero in on numerous SMS data brokers/casters who send out large volumes of SMS including these unsolicited and “text messages”. These “middlemen” are third party entities employed by telcos and private companies to propagate their marketing promos and campaigns using text messages.  Unfortunately, Liboro says, SMS casters may have been used by criminals to undertake scams. Perhaps, these “stolen personal data” may have been acquired from our recent political exercise and its explosive social media and text wars.

He is proposing the immediate creation of an SMS SENDER IDENTITY REGISTRY (SMS-SIR) which would require all entities who transmit big volumes of text messages to register. These means, all establishments who ask the public for their names/cellphone numbers and other personal information in exchange for membership, rewards, services, discounts, and other commercial activities.  This way, government will have the ability to monitor and regulate transmission activities of these SMS data brokers/casters, who will now be properly identified and made accountable. After proper evaluation, only enrolled senders will be allowed by government and telco to use the gateway, while those unregistered will be meted proper sanctions.

This is a big and serious trust issue and government should not procrastinate until people start ignoring their SMS text alerts, whether from NDRRMCC, PAGASA, DOH, DILG, police, fire or the LFGUs.  This also goes for the private sector, the banks, schools, hospitals whose text messaging would be possibly disregarded by the people.

There is an available solution and this administration, specifically the National Privacy Commission, the National Telecommunications and the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT). If these agencies would register all SMS data brokers/casters in the country and regulate their all their transmission activities, this problem of unsolicited text spams or messages will be minimized if not eliminated.  They could do it now, even while the SIM registration law is pending in Congress.

I hope that the present officers of these agencies will have that common sense and resolve in bolstering and not destroying people’s trust in SMS messaging. It is now a way of life, our connection with society and government.

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This proliferation of “personalized text scams”, aggravated by government and telco inaction, greatly undermines the credibility and usefulness of text messaging, now a very important communication lifeline of our society and widely used including the poorest levels.

The time to act is now!

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