The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) of the UK in a recent study found that one in three young people are victims of “text pests” – which are workers that use personal information from services that they provided to the victims for unsolicited advances.
This is a concerning revelation as many of these instances involve unwanted romantic or sexual advances that utilise sensitive personal information.
In UK cyber law, personal information and data protection are regulated under the Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA 2018) and the UK General Data Protection Regulation (UK-GDPR). These two pieces of legislation have outlined the parameters for data protection and processing, which is noted that personal information must only be used for the consented uses.
Thus, these unwanted advances are described by the ICO as a breach of the law.
Information Commissioner’s Office
The research was conducted with 2,289 adults in the UK who are aged 18 and above. It was done between 28-31 July. The data was then processed through the categorisation of age, gender, region and social grade.
The participants were asked three questions listed below:
- 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 judgment?
- 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?
Information Commissioner’s Office Findings
Based on the questions asked, they were able to discover that 17% of adults have experienced their personal information provided for business used for unsolicited romantic or sexual advances. London was found to be the region where it happened the most, with 33% of residents reporting such incidents.
29% of young people aged 18-34 admit to having been victims of these “text pests”, showing the prevalence of such incidents happening to this age group.
Over half or 56% of the respondents believed this to be illegal, but a noteworthy 24% did not believe it to be legal or illegal. Further, 9% believed these incidents to be legal. And young people are more likely to think it is legal with 14% admitting so.
A clear majority (66%) of the public believes that using personal information provided for business purposes in romantic or sexual advances is morally wrong. Around 20% see it as morally neutral, while only 5% consider it morally acceptable.
Responses of the Findings
Deputy Commissioner, Regulatory Policy at the Information Commissioner’s Office, Emily Keaney released a statement that outlines her perspective. People should be able to give their information for practical reasons without facing inappropriate advances later. Research highlights a worrying number, especially among the youth, experiencing such issues.
Misusing personal data obtained in business contexts for romantic advances is not acceptable, even if some perceive it as charming. Businesses, including delivery services, must safeguard customer data and address employee misuse. A call for public input aims to enhance data protection efforts.