ICO study reveals extent of customer data misuse for romantic contact

22/08/2023 | ICO

A report in The Guardian reveals the results of a recent study by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), which identified almost one in three people aged 18-34 had received unwanted romantic contact after providing their personal information to a business. According to the research, phone numbers and email addresses were typically used to make a romantic proposition. The same study also indicates that 66% of the general public believes it is morally wrong to use such information outside its intended business context.

Deputy Commissioner for Regulatory Policy Emily Keaney said, “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." 

The ICO said it intends to contact large customer-facing employers to remind them that unauthorised use of personal information is illegal. Addressing employers' responsibilities, Keaney said, “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.” 

In a form on its website, the ICO is calling for individuals contacted this way to come forward to help it gather evidence of the impact of this behaviour. 

Data protection specialist Jon Baines wrote on his personal blog that he was surprised the ICO did not clearly explain that "if someone obtains a customer’s contact details from a business, and uses it for personal purposes which are different from (and not approved by) the business, they are very likely to be committing the criminal offence of unlawfully obtaining personal data without the consent of the controller, under section 170(1)(a) of the Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA)."

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