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Why is Lyka the Philippines' New Blockbuster App?

Likes for Gems in the planet's social media capital.
by Ara Eugenio
Feb 3, 2021
Photo/s: Lyka
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With a few taps on her Lyka app, YouTube star Ivana Alawi bought her mother a P3.7-million car, showing how in 2021, influencers and those dreaming to become one can literally cash in on their online fame.

Alawi's purchase is the largest to be flexed on social media. That's the power of 11 million subscribers on YouTube, 11 million on Facebook and 6.6 million on Instagram. In the viral car-shopping clip, she showed just how easy it was to use the "Social Wallet that Pays for Passion."

The real star are her followers whom she thanked for helping her earn Lyka GEMs everytime they interact with her posts. That's the world's social media capital at work.

"Kapag nagpost ka ng mga pictures and kapag may nag like, kikita ka dun... So, ang payment natin will be cashless tsaka through Lyka gems. So yung mga nagpadala, yung mga naglike, thank you dahil sa inyo, nakabili tayo ng car," Alawi said.

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Other stars and influencers have used Lyka Gems to pay for almost everything from restaurant dates with their partners to brand new iPhone 12 Pros.

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The app recently topped Apple and Google play stores, showing just how much Filipinos are hooked. It makes influencers out of everyday users and also allows them to encash gems.

Is Lyka too good to be true?

Concerns regarding Lyka's privacy policies grew after complaints of app surveillance made rounds on social media. The app's developers said it was just a "glitch" that was promptly fixed. 

Internet skeptics recalled a lesson from Netflix's The Social Dilemma"If you’re not paying for the product, then you’re the product". In Lyka's case, the app is more than free, users actually earn.

Based on the Data Privacy Law, Lyka's policies stated in their site are consistent, said Edwin Concepcion, local country manager of Singapore-based data privacy solutions company, Straits Interactive. 

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The potential buying and selling of personal data is a legitimate business, as of now, he said, noting it's what made Facebook and Google the tech giants they are today despite ethical concerns. 

"So that’s their business model. If you agree, then it is what it is. What people need to look out for, however, is if they're given an option whether to allow these permissions or not. Because there must always be an option," he said.

Before downloading, Lyka requires users to read its privacy statement. You can also withdraw consent even after downloading, if the app doesn't offer a point-by-point process of securing approval, he said. 

"Overall, you really have to look at the functionality of how Lyka app works. It operates similarly as Facebook except they have gems and you can earn points. But are people afraid to use Facebook?"

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What's the big picture?

Data powers businesses in the digital economy. Data brokerage, the business of selling personal information, is a $200-billion industry. The problem lies at its core: the product here is actually the people. 

"If you’re downloading from your mobile app, the fonts are often too small so it’s difficult to read. The habit is also that, 'oh our friends are using it, celebrities are endorsing it', so you just click okay, okay, okay, without realizing that you have actually agreed to everything, including the sale of your data," said Concepcion. 

Filipinos are still largely not data privacy aware, he said. In 2016, data of millions of Filipino Facebook users was accessed by Cambridge Analytica in one of the world's largest known security breaches.

The fact that Filipinos share so much on social media makes the country appealing to digital marketers, Concepcion said.

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"We’re really generous not only with our money or home, but also with information. We share everything on social media," he said. This also makes it easy for identity theft to flourish online, hence the rampancy of phishing. 

How can you better protect your privacy?

Apple CEO Tim Cook recently charged at Facebook for exploiting user data: "If a business is built on misleading users, on data exploitation, on choices that are no choices at all, it does not deserve our praise. It deserves reform."

The iPhone maker and the world's largest social network are at odds over how user data is handled on Apple's iOS mobile software, something that has implications on Facebook's suite of apps.

Consumers are trapped in between, Concepcion said.

"There’s really no choice because the direction the world is going is digital all the way. It’s either we adapt or get left behind," he said.

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In the Philippines, the Data Privacy Law was put in place not to restrict the use of personal information, but to protect it.

"The law actually promotes the free flow of information to spur innovation and growth. But if you want to be in this business, you have to be transparent, have a legitimate purpose, and make sure the processing is proportional to what you declared in your privacy policy," Concepcion said. 

"It's really a balancing act or else your Lazada, your GCash, and your digital banks won’t exist. As long as they are transparent and you agree, then you can do business together," he said.

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