- Research commissioned by the ICO reveals that 29% of 18-34-year-olds received unwanted contact after giving their personal information to a business.
- 66% of the public believes it is not morally right to use personal details given for business purposes for romantic or sexual propositions. Only 5% believe it to be morally right.
- “It is against the law.” - ICO takes steps to combat “text pests”, contacting major delivery companies to emphasise of legal obligations.
- Share your experiences using our online form.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has today launched a call for victims of so-called ‘text pests’ to come forward to help the regulator gather evidence of the impact of this illegal behaviour.
Text pests are individuals who use personal information, such as a phone number or email address, given to them in a business context for “romantic” or sexual propositions – for example, asking a customer out on a date after they ordered a takeaway.
The call for evidence comes as new research commissioned by the ICO reveals that nearly a third of 18-34-year-olds who responded to its poll had been victims of this practice. The research also revealed that younger people are more likely to mistakenly believe this to be a legal act. Two thirds of the public, however, believe it to be morally wrong.
The ICO will be looking further on the unauthorised use of personal information for romantic or sexual propositions, contacting some of the major customer-facing employers in the country to emphasise their legal responsibilities as well as to learn more about what safeguards they have in place.
Emily Keaney, Deputy Commissioner, Regulatory Policy at the Information Commissioner’s Office says:
“People have the right to order a pizza, or give their email for a receipt, or have shopping delivered, without then being asked for sex or a date a little while later. They have a right to know that when they hand over their personal information, that it will not then be used in ways that they would not be comfortable with. But our research today shows a disturbingly high number of people, particularly young people, are falling prey to these text pests.
“There may be, amongst some, an outdated notion that to use someone’s personal details given to you in a business context to ask them out is romantic or charming. Put quite simply, it is not – it is against the law.
“If you are running a customer facing business, you have a responsibility to protect the data of your customers, including from your employees misusing it. We are writing to major businesses, including food and parcel delivery, to remind them that there are no excuses, and there can be no looking the other way.
“We’ve launched this call for evidence today because we want to hear directly from the public how this misuse of personal information has affected them. As the data regulator, we can then use this to inform our work protecting the public.”
The ICO call for evidence on unwanted employee contact and customer experience will be open from 22 August to 15 September. People can share their experiences through the ICO’s online form. The ICO encourages everyone who has been impacted by this to share their experiences.
Key findings from research
Respondents were asked three questions:
- Has anyone ever used your personal information (phone number, name, email address etc.), given to them for a business reason, to approach you with a romantic or sexual proposition?
- Do you think using someone’s personal information (phone number, name, email address etc.) provided for a business reason, to contact them with a romantic or sexual proposition is legal, illegal, or a matter of personal judgement?
- What is your view of using someone’s personal information (phone number, name, email address etc.) provided for a business reason, to contact them with a romantic or sexual proposition?
The results found that:
- 17% of the public have had their personal information given for a business reason used for a romantic or sexual proposition. This includes 30% of 18-24s, 29% of 25-34s, and 25% of 35-44s.
- The most common geographic region is London, where 33% of residents report this happening to them.
- 9% of the public believe that the use of personal information provided for business reasons for romantic or sexual propositions is legal. 24% believe it to be neither legal nor illegal, but a matter of personal judgement. 56% believe it to be illegal.
- Young people are significantly more likely to believe it to be legal, with 14% of 18-34s believing it to be legal compared to 2% of over 55s.
- Men are more than twice as likely to believe it is legal, at 12% compared to 5% of women.
- 66% of the public believe the use of personal information provided for business reasons for romantic or sexual propositions to be morally wrong. 20% believe it to be morally neither right nor wrong. 5% believe it to be morally right.
- Women are more likely to believe it is morally wrong, with 74% reporting that view compared to 58% of men. Men are more than twice as likely to believe it is morally right, at 7% compared to 3% of women.
- Older people are significantly more likely to believe it is not morally right, with 76% of over 55s reporting this view compared to 57% of 18-34s.
Savanta surveyed 2,289 UK adults aged 18+ between 28 – 31 July. Data were weighted to be representative by age, gender, region, and social grade. Savanta is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.
Notes for editors
- The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is the UK’s independent regulator for data protection and information rights law, upholding information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.
- The ICO has specific responsibilities set out in the Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA2018), the United Kingdom General Data Protection Regulation (UK GDPR), the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA), Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR), Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003 (PECR) and a further five acts and regulations.
- The ICO can take action to address and change the behaviour of organisations and individuals that collect, use, and keep personal information. This includes criminal prosecution, non-criminal enforcement and audit.
- To report a concern to the ICO telephone call our helpline on 0303 123 1113, or go to ico.org.uk/concerns.
- Companies contacted have been identified due to the high likelihood of them/members of their staff coming into contact with members of the public. This is not a reflection or a pre-judgement on their data protection practices. This is a fact-finding exercise and we are not alleging that any infringements have taken place.