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BT suspends SMS trial amid data protection fears

Admits service 'might be a concern'

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BT is to pull the plug on a new SMS service amid fears it might breach data protection laws.

The service - BT SMS Self Service - lets punters text BT to see when their phone bill was last paid or to find progress on a fault. BT began trialling the service last month as part of a new way for punters to stay in touch.

Snag is, not only does the text service enable BT customers to find out about their own phone lines, it can let them snoop on the details of others. Indeed, when El Reg had a go we were able to find details of a number of phone lines, although it wouldn't let us sneak at peek at data on BT's press office number.

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), which oversees data protection legislation in the UK, is sufficiently concerned by BT's service that it wants assurances "appropriate data protection safeguards are in place".

A spokesman for the ICO told us: "We understand that this service is currently being trialled by BT. We can understand that people may be concerned if, for instance, by using this service someone could discover whether someone's bill had been paid or not. We will be contacting BT to discuss this new service with them to assure ourselves that appropriate data protection safeguards are in place."

Following concerns raised by the ICO, BT has decided to temporarily halt part of the service, even though the telco insists the texts do not indicate whether that payment was late or how much was paid.

Punters will stll be able to use the service if they enter their account number as well as their phone number.

"We realise that this might be a concern to some customers. We have taken the decision to suspend the current trial service while we consider what action we need to take to further safeguard customers' data," a spokesman told us. ®

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