WebClick Tracer

BEYOND THE FOUR WALLS: Data protection, peace, and why social media is not free 

beyond the four walls walter balane mindaviews column

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews / 9 December)  –  While it appears to be free, we know of course that Facebook/Meta and other social media services are not.  We are thankful for these connections, which their platforms offer to us. But it is free of charge only on the basis of entry – substantially no barriers – as there is no pay wall. But that is the design – make it available to all so their service base goes large and compelling.  

This free service is of course business. One of the products is targeted advertising often used in social media platforms, search engines, and other websites.

This refers to the practice of displaying advertisements to users based on their individual characteristics, interests, and online behavior. This is our counterpart, the cost we pay for availing of the social media service.

How come?

The social media networks, however, are not doing this without our consent, as I noted in an earlier piece (The risks of clicking right away, MindaNews, November 12, 2023).

Meta for example is using two primary legal bases for engaging its users’ data for targeted advertising, as we can glean from current cases.

First, it is part of what users agreed to when they signed up for Facebook. Users’ data are used for targeted advertising because they agreed to allow it. This is part of the items users agreed to in the terms and conditions that include a clause allowing their data to be used for “personalized advertising”.

”We don’t charge you to use Facebook or the other products and services covered by these Terms, unless we state otherwise. Instead, businesses and organizations, and other persons pay us to show you ads for their products and services. By using our Products, you agree that we can show you ads that we think may be relevant to you and your interests. We use your personal data to help determine which personalized ads to show you,” as they put it.

The second is what the social media companies consider to be their “legitimate business interests”. They say they can use it “provided that these interests are not overridden by the fundamental rights and freedoms of the data subjects”.

Their logic is simple: they need targeted advertising in delivering relevant and effective advertising to users, which in turn helps them generate revenue and support their services, the services that users avail.

Contract and legitimate business are the subjects of a recent decision by the European Data Protection Board and recently the data privacy authority of Ireland. That decision has an indirect impact in the Philippines but it should provide a precedent.  

Following the EDPB’s urgent binding decision in October 2023, the Irish data protection authority adopted its final decision on November 10, 2023. They imposed a ban on Meta Ireland Limited for the processing of personal data for behavioral advertising purposes on the basis of contract and legitimate interest.

According to the EDPB website, they have four reasons behind the decision: lack of meaningful consent, unfair balance of power, lack of transparency, and potential discrimination. The EDPB challenged the use of both contract and legitimate interest as legal bases for targeted advertising.

The EDPB argued that users often do not have a real choice when it comes to agreeing to terms and conditions that allow their data to be used for targeted advertising. These terms and conditions are often lengthy and complex, and users may feel pressured to agree to them in order to access the service.

Shoshana Zuboff’s book “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power” has explained the unprecedented power of surveillance capitalism and the quest by powerful corporations to control human behavior through data collection and analysis.

In light of the above, there is no way to call a “free” decision the consent given by users when they agreed to the terms and conditions.


Another question, do we as social media platform users have a say on how our data will be used after we agreed that it could be shared or used for advertisement?

Indeed, there is an imbalance of power between large tech companies like Meta and the individual users.

While companies have access to vast amounts of user data, which they can use to create detailed profiles of individuals to make money, the users have no such control. This gives companies a significant advantage over the users, which is possibly intrusive and harmful to the latter’s privacy.

I am talking about the lack of transparency about how they collect, use, and share user data for targeted advertising. This makes it difficult for users to understand how their data is being used and to make informed choices about their privacy settings.

Targeted advertising can be discriminatory if it is based on sensitive personal data, such as race, religion, or political views. This can lead to unfair treatment of certain groups of people.

The EDPB decision on Meta is potentially a significant development in the field of data privacy. It suggests that companies may no longer be able to rely on contract or legitimate interest as legal bases for targeted advertising without providing users with more meaningful control over their data.

This decision has implications for data privacy regulations around the world, including in the Philippines. It is likely to encourage regulators like the National Privacy Commission to take a more critical look at the use of personal data for targeted advertising and to implement stricter rules.

Of course we know big tech will appeal the decision in Europe. However, it is a significant step in the ongoing debate about the balance between data privacy and targeted advertising.

In the sidelines

In the sidelines of a media training on covering transitional justice, thinking about this concern makes it negligible. In the midst of current trends and issues in the implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, such as the implementation of the normalization processes, this could be a minute issue as of now.

Data protection, however, plays an important role in promoting peace by preventing conflict, promoting trust and cooperation, and protecting human rights. While data protection laws can help ensure that individuals have access to information, which is essential for holding governments and other organizations accountable, we cannot entirely rely on the agency of citizens to take control of their data.  The NPC is duty-bound to do its job and educate the public about the risks and what can be done. As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, it is important to have strong data protection laws in place to ensure that data is used for good and not to harm.

One case in point: a journalist from Cagayan de Oro filed a case against Meta for not disclosing the identities behind the red-tagging against him on social media, according to a report of Philippine News Agency in May 2023. The journalist accused Meta to have violated his right because they refused to disclose to him the ‘user data’ and other evidence that could help him identify the authors behind the libelous and illegal posts.

The Data Privacy Act of 2012, or Republic Act 10173, states that a data subject has the right to “reasonable access, upon demand, of the names and addresses of the recipients of personal information,” the report cited.

I also wonder what civil society organizations can do to help protect citizens in this aspect.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Walter I. Balane is a faculty member of a state university’s development communication department. The views he presented here represent only his personal insights.)

Your perspective matters! Leave a comment below and let us know what you think. We welcome diverse viewpoints and encourage respectful discussions. Don't hesitate to share your ideas or engage with others.

Search MindaNews

Share this MindaNews story
Send us Feedback