THE National Privacy Commission (NPC) has found three online lending firms to have violated the privacy of persons who were allegedly shamed publicly, including maliciously disclosing the private information of borrowers.

“The investigation determined that their business practice specifically targets the privacy of persons, practically making a profit out of people’s fear of losing face and dignity. These unethical practices simply have no place in a civilized society and must stop,” Privacy Commissioner Raymund E. Liboro said in a press conference on Friday to release the outcome of the agency’s probe.

He said the operators of the lending applications could face imprisonment of up to seven years and fines of up to P5 million for violating the Data Privacy Act of 2012.

The lending firms were identified as Fast Cash Global Lending, Inc., Unipeso Lending Co., Inc., and Fynamics Lending, Inc. The commission’s fact-finding reports recommended the criminal prosecution of the firms’ board members for violating provisions of the privacy law.

Ivy D. Patdu, deputy privacy commissioner, said NPC had ordered executives behind the lending apps to respond within 10 days of their receipt of the agency’s order to file an answer to explain the allegations in the commission’s reports.

She said if the respondents fail to answer without justification, the commission would make its final decision based on available evidence and information contained in the reports.

Mr. Liboro said aside from criminal prosecution, the fact-finding team also recommended issuing a temporary or permanent ban on the processing of personal data by the lending firms “as urgently required by public interest” as well as the issuance of compliance orders against them.

He said NPC received a total of 921 complaints about the same offenses, namely: use of contact list or phone directory without consent or authority; disclosure of unwarranted or false information to other persons; use of personal information for harassment and threatening communications; and unduly intrusive personal data processing.

The complains prompted the commission to create a taskforce to probe the lending firms. The three lenders mentioned accounted for 61% of the complaints, he said.

Fast Cash Global operates the Fast Cash online app; Unipeso operates the Cashlending app; and Fynamics operates PondoPeso.

The NPC officials noted that the firms are registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Mr. Liboro said the privacy law, which is meant to protect the private information of individuals, ensures that they are not harmed with illegal or unauthorized use of their personal details.

He cautioned online users against the downloading of online lending applications, and to carefully read the terms and conditions as these might include “dangerous permissions” such as access to a person’s live location, phone books and social media account, or even camera control. — Victor V. Saulon