Probe finds little evidence of ‘sex pest text’ epidemic

iPhone mobile 2The Information Commissioner’s Office has ruled out any major action in response to a reported rise of so-called “sex pest texts”, and instead has praised businesses for their efforts in tightening up their data security and governance procedures.

In August, the ICO launched a call for evidence about the scale of the problem after its own research revealed almost one in three people aged 18 to 34 had been targeted by “over-friendly customer service”, with customer-facing staff using personal details given to a company to badger customers.

It received around 90 responses. Most came from women, who said they had received an inappropriate text message or call after giving their personal information to a business. Such contact involved comments on their physical appearance, date propositions, and even sexually explicit images in some cases.

However, the ICO said this behaviour is not necessarily a new phenomenon. One individual detailed an incident dating back several decades, while others told of unwanted text messages received in the 2010s.

In a blog post about the study, ICO deputy commissioner for regulatory policy Emily Keaney said the regulator did not find any ongoing negligent behaviour from specific companies and where incidents had occurred they had taken proactive action to address them.

She added: “As part of our scoping exercise, we contacted some of the major customer-facing employers in the country. Although we found that some of the companies received complaints from customers on unwanted contact, it was a very small number when compared to the millions of people employed and the number of deliveries and services provided every year. Such incidents and the employees responsible were dealt with through the companies’ own discipline procedures, many resulting in dismissal of the perpetrator.

“We also saw a good level of understanding from the companies on their data protection obligations, including having the appropriate measures in place to avoid the misuse of customer data by their employees.”

Three companies – UberEats, Royal Mail and JustEat – came in for particular praise, with other examples of good practice including staff training that clearly outlines the implications of misuse of personal information; the ability for customers to easily raise a concern about unsolicited contact; robust disciplinary measures in the event of an incident; and mechanisms to report serious incidents to the ICO.

Keaney concluded: “While we recognise that customer information, including phone numbers and home addresses, are often essential in support of legitimate business transactions, the unsolicited contact beyond this purpose is likely to be unfair and unlawful. That’s why we’re urging organisations to learn from the good practice outlined so they can continue to handle people’s information appropriately.”

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