The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) issued an order on October 13  to top e-commerce platforms Facebook Marketplace, Lazada Philippines, and Shopee Philippines to stop their online sales of text blast machines. The organization, which regulates the installation, operation, and maintenance of radio stations both for public and private use, also stated in its show-cause orders to the three leading online selling brands that any sale, manufacture, acquisition (including importation), and distribution of the SMS (short messaging systems) machines are apparently in violation of several Philippine laws.

Only a few national line agencies and a handful of private companies are allowed to sell and use the SMS machines which can broadcast unsolicited text  messages to numerous cell phone users or subscribers within 3-5 kilometers of specific cell sites.  One example is the government’s National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council which is  permitted to send warnings and advisories about disasters and other nationwide emergencies to subscribers without having to ask their permission.

Using the machines to deliver messages to cell phone users without their consent would be violating their privacy under the Data Privacy Act of 2012.

According to a report by The Philippine Daily Inquirer, each machine sells at a price range of Php200,000 (S$5,325) to Php3M (S$79,885). It also stated that politicians who will be running for the national elections in 2022 are the common albeit secret buyers of the text blast machines.

With at least 169 million cell phone subscribers in the Philippines, based on the 2020 Statista report, candidates who choose to use the equipment illegally and surreptitiously can easily target and send campaign messages or invites to a good number of the voting population.

The product listings of the SMS machines have since been removed  from their sites by Facebook, Lazada, and Shopee.

Lazada also replied in the form of a Tweet to digital news site, ABS-CBN:  “Our team does a daily manual sweep for product listings that violate existing policies and these are removed once identified. Strong action is also taken against sellers found breaching our platform's terms and conditions.”

Representatives from the three digital giants have been asked to appear before the NTC on Oct. 27.

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