Data Scientist Goes Before the Senate to Demonstrate What Google Has on All of Us

Isaac Reyes, lead trainer of DataSeer, a data science training company, was invited by the Philippine Senate to give a talk about data privacy and collection in the country. The session was addressed to researchers, officials, and data analysts working with the government, but that doesn’t mean that the information isn’t useful to the rest of us.

In fact, it might be most useful to us end users, who are the first to click yes to most terms and conditions presented to them on their phones and desktops.

In a short eight-minute clip made from his hour-long appearance, Reyes explains how much is stored and given to Google from his Android phone: from his gym session to an unfortunate selfie and messages he sent about lunch. What Reyes presents is an incredible amount of information, which when put together creates almost a map of everything he had done that day. And every other day for years.


While the scope of accessible information is intimidating, data collection does serve its purposes. “We have to recognise that companies will take our data to serve us better. They have a right to that in some way. If you’re engaging with a company, of course they want to serve you better… and they do that by analyzing data,” Reyes says in an interview with Esquire Philippines.

But in the Philippines, we’re still playing catch-up in the world of data science: “We do these talks all around the world, and if there’s one thing we notice about immature data science markets—and by immature I mean countries that are in very early stages, they’re not even trying to analyse the data, they’re still trying to collect it—the biggest misconception I see is [the idea that] data science is this magic bullet that can solve anything. That it can solve the traffic situation, or agriculture, or the airport situation. There areexcellent application in these areas but it’s not just a matter of throwing an AI at these things. The issue here is that the practitioners for these applications are very few and far between. Data science is such a niche field. It’s so expensive.”

DataSeer stopped its consultancy services in the Philippines, despite the abundance of people who want to learn more, because they realized the competitive pricing wasn’t working—so they started Data Science Philippines, a sort of advocacy program which hosts free mini-conferences with guest speakers, happening roughly every three months. Reyes hopes that the mini-conferences will serve as a starting point. To date, they have trained roughly 8,000 people.

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As for the regular end users, we still have to pay attention—because its our data privacy is on the line. In the Cambridge Analytica scandal, for example, Filipinos ranked second, with 1.2 million affected users.

“Companies in the Philippines are behind, but that doesn’t at all mean you have a higher level of data privacy. I think that when it comes to sacrificing our data privacy, the companies to worry about are not the companies here in the Philippines. They’re in Silicon Valley, New York, London. They’re in the largest, most developed countries in the world. That’s where the data is being housed. Are you more protected here? If you blindly accept the terms of service… you want a selfie with a cat ear or cat nose, and you just click yes, then your data privacy is being compromised.”

But what should we really be looking for in those word-heavy terms and services?

"What you have to look for is the ‘sharing.’ You might find a clause that says ‘User agrees that data may be used for internal purpose, but also shared with Company X and Affiliates.’ That’s way, way overreaching,” Reyes says.

“That’s what I recommended in the session. The next step for the Philippines, if there is going to be an app that is downloadable... Make it a law that the clause on consent to use this data, is not page 13 of a 30-page document. Move it on the front page. Write it in a larger font. Write it in bold red font, in simple English. Write it in Tagalog even.”


But until that happens, make the effort to take those terms and conditions, copy and paste them into a new document, press Control + F, and type “consent,” or “privacy,” or “sharing.” Weed out those nuances. Until steps are taken to move data science and collection forward, we can at least take privacy into our own hands.

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About The Author
Nina Unlay
Nina Unlay is pursuing an MA in Journalism. She used to be the Features Editor of GRID magazine.
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