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NPC launches probe on telcos, Union Bank, GCash over SMS spam

By AYIE LICSI Published Nov 29, 2021 7:13 pm

The National Privacy Commission (NPC) has formally launched an investigation on telcos and payment platforms over the prevalent smishing and spam messages that Filipinos have been receiving.

The probe will go into whether telecom companies Globe Telecom, Smart Communications, and Dito Telecommunity "exercised due diligence and accountability in transacting with data aggregators" linked to the spam messages, which offer jobs and investment schemes to Filipinos.

“At the meeting with the NPC on November 24, the data protection officers of Globe Telecom and Smart Communications revealed a complex chain of data aggregation and handling, involving data brokers, that is bringing new challenges to compliance and enforcement,” Privacy Commissioner Raymund E. Liboro said in a press statement.

The commission also ordered Union Bank and GCash, where victims are reportedly directed to make deposits, to submit documents on their data flows and transactions involving aggregators.

PLDT-Smart said in a statement that they are cooperating with NPC on the matter.

"We welcome the NPC's investigation on the SMS spam/scam. As we have stated in last week's meeting convened by the NPC, we will cooperate with NPC's initiatives to address the issue. In fact, we already submitted an initial report even before the NPC issued its order. We will be submitting additional information required by the NPC as well as updates on the actions taken by Smart," Leah B. Jimenez, PLDT's chief data privacy officer said.

PhilSTAR L!fe has also reached out to Globe and Union Bank for their response but the firms have yet to respond.

Tracing the source

The NPC earlier said that an "organized global syndicate" was behind the spam messages. Telcos told the commission that they traced the texts to China- and India-web-hosted companies.

In its report to the NPC, Globe named China Skyline Telecom, which tapped into data broker Macrokiosk, as the primary source of the job hiring texts.

Data brokers collect information from public records, online activity, and purchase history to re-sell to other companies for marketing purposes. Data aggregators, on the other hand, are platforms that compile large amounts of information.

Sample spam text
New task force

To take action against smishing and text spam, a new inter-agency group was formed consisting of the NPC, Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center (CICC), Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), National Telecommunications Commission, Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Department of Labor and Employment, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, National Security Council and Anti-Money Laundering Council.

Lead agency CICC will act as the hub that will receive complaints from Filipinos. They will also forward these numbers to the telcos for blocking.

Aside from the new task force, the NPC pushes for call and test attestation, which will list numbers in a registry. This will allow for easy tracing of the owner of a number used in calling or sending text messages.

The NPC said they also urged telcos to continue blocking these data aggregators, numbers, domains, and internet protocol addresses that enable smishing and text spams.