A company promoting a musical festival in the UK has been fined £70,000 (around $110,000) after using SMS spoofing to send tens of thousands of text messages to attendees appearing to have come from their mothers. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) issued the fine after receiving dozens of complaints, including several from teenagers whose mothers had died recently and described receiving the text as "devastating" and "upsetting".
Complainants said the text was 'traumatic' after the recent death of their mothers
"I have been very traumatised by the text as the death of my mum was one of the lowest points of my life," wrote one complainant in official documents published by the ICO. "To receive a text from her close to the anniversary of her passing was upsetting beyond words."
Parklife Manchester Ltd, the company responsible for the city’s annual Parklife music festival, collected the phone numbers from individuals who had registered to buy tickets or who had bought tickets in previous years. The messages appeared on users’ phones from "Mum" with no preview text, telling recipients: "Some of the Parklife after parties have already sold out. If your going, make sure your home for breakfast! Xxx" (sic).
A screenshot of the text message from May this year
SMS spoofing of this kind works by replacing the senders’ mobile number with alphanumeric text and can be used via a number of online bulk SMS services with zero technical knowledge. Mobile carriers, banks, and internet companies can use spoofing to send clearly labelled texts to customers, although the practice is far more common in Europe than America.
In a statement about the incident, head of ICO Enforcement Steve Eckersley said: "This was a poorly thought out piece of marketing that didn’t appear to even try to follow the rules [...] It made some people very upset in an attempt to sell tickets to a club night, and that is not acceptable. We would expect a company dealing with the details of as many customers as this to have a much better understanding of the law around marketing text messages."