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Spammed

Is it just me but has more spam been coming into my SMS inbox in these past few days?

My mobile phone has been bombarded with offers for employment, condo units, discounts, practically almost anything under the sun and I don’t know where the spammers got my number.

The first suspect, of course, would be the telecom company or service provider. However, they seem to have stopped this nasty practice after getting customer complaints in the past so I don’t think it’s them anymore. What comes to mind every time my phone chimes and an unsolicited message appears these past few days is that somebody has gotten hold of the contact data we have been forced to give away on the various contact tracing forms we’ve been filling up all throughout our pandemic lifestyle.

As 95 percent of us has probably experienced, contact tracing in this country is generally useless. Maybe I just don’t go out into the wild that much, but nobody has contacted me because for contact tracing purposes ever since the pandemic began. Contact tracing information is being given and taken only for the purpose of compliance but it feels like that the information being gathered isn’t put to good use. There is no system, there is no uniformity, and there is no database. There is just the information we give away every day.

At the most basic level of contact tracing is the handwritten logbook. I don’t know who parses the information that is entered here if ever the need arises but good luck to that person. The hurriedly written scribbles are usually terrible, which by itself should already be an indicator of the uselessness of the information being captured by that system. The only legible entries might be the telephone numbers and that should explain how so many spam texts are being sent these days.

In my case, I really cannot blame the handwritten logbook for my recent bout with spam because I avoid using this rudimentary contact tracing system. First of all, I have bad handwriting. Secondly, I rarely carry a pen with me and I am not using a community pen as much as possible. So, I gravitate toward the contact tracing QRs that lead users to an internet link where we can enter contact information through our internet-capable smart phones.

As for the contact tracing websites that are used by commercial establishments, it is probably our fault that most of us don’t bother to ready the terms and conditions. Who knows, we could be voluntarily signing away our contact information when we use those websites.

Finally there are the QR-based ID systems lie Bacolod’s BacTrac and SPass, where a QR code ID is generated after enrolling our contact information into their system. We enter our contact information only once and then scan our QR codes every time we enter establishments that use the same system so as far as our contact information is concerned, this feels relatively safer. However, these giant repositories containing the contact information of tens of thousands of individuals must be a gold mine for those interested in such data and after almost two years of constant use, we don’t even know how good the cybersecurity protocols were and still are.

If you come to think of it, even if the data security protocols were world class, anyone who has access to such a treasure trove of data can be tempted to give it away if the price is right.

I hope I am wrong but it feels like the increased spamming in the past few days is the only feedback we’ve gotten from the country’s largely ineffective contact tracing system. We have never heard from the government and the various contact tracing systems that have been deployed for almost 2 years but now we are getting messages from those who have benefited from the contact data that has been gathered from almost every Filipino. Even if enough of us complain about this intrusion of privacy, there is no way to tell if they can put the genie back in the bottle because once our contact details have been given away to the highest bidder, there is no way they are giving it back. They’ll just stop for a bit and then start bothering us with even more messages and texts after the brouhaha dies down.

Can something be done about this new wave of spam that we have been getting? Hopefully government can step in and do its job by catching and prosecuting the culprit, wherever they may be operating from.*

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