June 21, 2019
DIGITAL

Fintech Apps’ Shaming of Customers Prompts NPC to Act

​(SDN) — IN today’s digital economy, the focus of business is to give customers the best experience.

The old mantra of businessmen — big and small — that “customers is always right” is becoming more significant as technological innovation is pushing a stiffer competition for the heart, mind and pocket of customers.

But it seems not all business organizations have adopted the mantra.

On Tuesday, May 21, under the leadership of Commissioner Raymund E. Liboro, the National Privacy Commission (NPC) revealed in a press conference the hundreds of cases of instances of shaming of customers (borrowers) by 48 online lending apps.

He said the NPC is being swamp by more than 400 harassment complaints against 48 mobile lending operators, as borrowers cried foul over what they perceived as harm and abuse to their reputation.

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Privacy Commissioner Raymund E. Liboro warns online lending apps operators who are shaming their borrowers. 

Liboro raised the possibility that erring financial technology (fintech) apps may face ban, temporarily, or even permanently, from operating and offering their services.

As of this writing, the privacy commission, the guardian of Filipino citizens’ data privacy rights, has already started hearings on the shaming complaints.

He said the agency is presently handling a total of 485 complaints lodged by borrowers against operators of online lending apps for alleged misused of the complainants’ information.

Allegedly disclosed to other people are borrowers’ unpaid balances.

The NPC commissioner, who is also the chairman, said there are at least 235 cases which the complainants are formally pursuing for which the agency is holding hearings.

He said the the complaints have been piling up since recently.

“Over the past few months, we received almost identical complaints that pile up by the day from individuals accusing online lending apps of rude practices. Complainants say the harassment and shaming started when they failed to pay their balances on time.

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Explaining the steps the NPC is taking on complaints of borrowers against online lending operators who shamed their customers.

“The people behind the lending app called or texted their contact list about their inability to return the money, causing them embarrassment and emotional stress,” Liboro revealed at the press briefing held at the NPC headquarters at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC), Pasay City, Metro Manila.

Apparently, the online lending operators have stacks of their customers’ personal information because downloading the mobile apps allegedly requires access to contact information, photos, files and documents saved in the borrower’s phone, before processing of the online loan application can proceed.

Then comes what could be “weaponizing” the borrowers’ personal information, turning against them.

If a borrower fails to pay on time, all of his or her phone contacts receive a collection text message or call stating the borrower’s full name and outstanding balance.

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Press conference at NPC headquarters, PICC, Pasay City.

However, it is a hearing, not a one-way procedure. The respondents’ must be heard.

“The NPC has started conducting hearings on the cases and it is vital that we also hear the respondent’s side of the story and we would highly appreciate it if they cooperate,” Liboro said.

In case culpability is established, erring mobile online lending operators may face temporary or permanent ban from operating while the NPC may also award damages to affected individuals.

The cases could also be referred to the Department of Justice (DOJ) for criminal prosecution. However, during the course of the proceedings, the parties may opt for mediation where they may freely arrive into settlement.

Liboro sees some good from the cases’ filed by the customers’ against the apps operators, like Filipinos’ awareness of their data rights.

On the bright side, Liboro noted this surge of complaints could be seen as an indication of people’s growing awareness of day-to-day data privacy issues. It also shows the increasing comfort level of Filipinos about digital technology, including online financial exchanges, which is built on the foundation of consumer.

But much work needs to be done.

NPC info

“If left unaddressed, problems like these may slow down our momentum towards a data-driven Philippines,” Liboro said.

He also assured that in the NPC’s exercise of its mandate, the agency will make it sure the cases against the online lending apps will not be a stumbling block for innovation from continuing its adoption among Filipinos.

Simultaneous to its enforcement efforts, the NPC is also intensifying its awareness drive aimed at data subjects as well as data controllers and processors, with the Privacy Awareness Week (PAW) 2019 happening on May 25 – 31.

“Citizens need to know that they should carefully read privacy notices before they give consent to any personal data processing. PICs, meantime, should be fully transparent when declaring how they will process and use the personal data they collect, assuming full accountability,” Liboro said.

This year’s theme for the PAW is “Datos ng Pilipino, Protektado Ko! (Protecting the Digital Filipino: Accountability, Compliance and Ethics in a Data-driven Philippines).

“Upholding data privacy rights by those who process our personal data cannot happen with mere paper compliance. It has to be rooted in a sense of public accountability to data subjects. That’s what this year’s tagline emphasizes. It’s all about owning up to the responsibility of safeguarding people’s data and living up to the trust they conferred upon your organization,” Liboro said.

Serving as its flagship event for the PAW 2019 celebrations, the NPC shall conduct the 2nd National Data Privacy Conference (NDPC).

The NDPC is expected to draw more than 2,000 participants on May 23 and 24 at the Philippine International Convention Center.

One of NDPC’s highlights is the 1st Digital Data Governance in the Public Sector Conference, which is solely for Data Protection Officers in the government. For the private industry, there will be breakout sessions targeting each sector’s specific needs. (SDN/NPC)

Images source: Courtesy of National Privacy Commission.

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