A Bad Idea? Using Facebook to Catch Tax Cheats

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 8/20/2010 02:02:00 AM
Dear readers, let me begin by saying that I am on Facebook not by choice but by social pressure. In marketing, one of the observed phenomena in the diffusion of innovations is precisely others continually asking you to adopt something. And so it was with Facebook: I just felt sufficiently harassed that I joined Facebook even if I almost never visit it except to reply to queries and friend requests. As a courtesy to others, you will often be made to do things you do not necessarily find necessary.

However, there are more sinister or creative ways to use Facebook that I'm now discovering aside from well-documented instances of those snooping for private information to facilitate identity theft. Earlier this year, I received a seemingly innocent message on Facebook from someone I didn't know inquiring whether I was in touch with so-and-so. This struck me as unusual insofar as this person had a profile that was easily accessible. Therefore, I told the the person inquiring to look up so-and-so's easily accessible profile. The next message explained a whole lot more: This stranger turned out to be a bank employee claiming an "urgent" need to get in touch. Sniffing around, I discovered that local banks have developed the practice of using Facebook to track down delinquent accounts like, presumably, so-and-so who was my Facebook friend. I cut off correspondence then and there as I do not believe Facebook is the proper forum for such sneakiness.

Similarly, I nearly forgot to post about this interesting article concerning how the new Philippines government aims to use social networking sites to corral tax cheats and improve collection [!] Again, it boils down to persons' willingness to snitch on their "friends," or otherwise use social networking sites to pass information about alleged tax cheats. The latter raises interesting safety issues, among other things:
The new Philippine government of President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino is enlisting Facebook and Twitter in an ambitious effort to close the country’s gaping budget deficit. Filipinos are fervent users of new media, leading the world in text messaging. Cesar Purisima, the finance secretary, wants citizens to tweet cases of tax evasion and corruption among tax collectors or report them on Facebook.

Mr Aquino and his team must tackle a budget deficit that hit a record 3.9 per cent of gross domestic product last year. They want to reduce the gap to 2 per cent within three years, mainly through better and more honest tax collection. The campaign comes as Asians increasingly use social networking sites, in ways that not only change how they relate with family and friends but also with government.

Asia has more than 64m Facebook users, according to GreyReview, a website that tracks social media in Asia. The Philippines has about 11m Facebook users, the most in Asia after Indonesia, which has just over 18m. Observers credit new social media with helping Mr Aquino, 50, score a landslide in the recent presidential polls. His Facebook account – which features user-created videos urging people to vote for him – generated 1m fans shortly after it was created, easily becoming one of the country’s most popular sites...

Philippine officials are hoping that the outrage over widespread tax evasion that has crimped the government’s ability to deliver basic services will encourage people to report suspected cases of tax evasion and smuggling to the authorities. The government is also asking citizens to send photos of homes, cars and other properties of tax officials suspected of living lavish lifestyles way beyond their government salaries.

Social networking experts said popular goodwill towards Mr Aquino might encourage people to respond favourably to the tax appeal. “Users who are usually allergic to government exhortations in the traditional media are more accommodating on the web, perhaps because many of the content are user-generated and rely on viral distribution,” said Justine Espina-Letargo, a multimedia journalist and expert on online political campaigning.
Again, there are many security issues here for those sharing potentially incriminating evidence. I, for one, do not believe Facebook is the ideal platform for this sort of activity.