Personal information is shared for various business purposes, and a concerning trend has emerged, the rise of “text pests.” The term refers to individuals who misuse personal details, such as phone numbers or email addresses, obtained in a business context for inappropriate romantic or sexual propositions.
The UK data protection watchdog, The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has launched an initiative to address this issue, shedding light on the impact of such behaviour on individuals and their privacy rights.
Recent research commissioned by the ICO has uncovered alarming statistics including the following:
- 29% of 18-34-year-olds reported receiving unwanted romantic or sexual propositions after providing personal information to a business.
- 66% of the public believes it is morally wrong to use personal details given for business purposes in such propositions, while only 5% view it as morally right.
- Despite the ethical consensus, there is a disparity in perceptions of legality, with 9% of the public wrongly believing that such actions are legal.
Text pests exploit personal information shared in a business context to engage in unwarranted romantic or sexual advances. This can include instances like receiving a proposition for a date after ordering a takeaway or completing a transaction with a business. The ICO’s call for evidence aims to collect firsthand accounts of individuals who have experienced this inappropriate use of their personal data.
These actions are not only morally wrong but also illegal. The act of using personal information for romantic or sexual propositions without consent violates privacy rights and goes against established laws. The ICO is reaching out to major customer-facing employers to reinforce their legal responsibilities and gather insights into the safeguards they have in place to prevent such misuse.
Here are some examples of some well-known companies and how they handle customer data correctly:
- UberEats: Applies data minimisation principles, restricting courier access to limited customer data. Real-time communication uses temporary phone numbers to protect privacy.
- Royal Mail: Implements data minimisation by limiting postmen and postwomen’s access to customer personal data during parcel delivery, preventing email or telephone number access.
- Just Eat: Utilises phone masking to hide customer phone numbers, ensuring only essential data is shared with couriers, who communicate through a centralized phone number.
Reporting Text Pests
Recognising the importance of customer information for legitimate business transactions, the ICO stresses that unsolicited contact beyond this purpose is likely to be unfair and unlawful. Individuals who face unwanted contact must take the following steps (as recommended by the ICO):
Report to the company: Reach out to the company employing the perpetrator. Companies are expected to understand their obligations and should address these incidents quickly.
Complain to the ICO: If the company fails to take action or if the response is unsatisfactory, individuals can file a complaint with the ICO. The ICO will investigate further to ensure accountability and protect individuals from data misuse.