Regulator to investigate sale of online dating profiles
A total of 10,000 online dating profiles has been sold to the BBC's Panorama programme, many of which were fake.
The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has said it will investigate the sale.
The ICO said the sale of this information could be "a significant breach of data protection principles".
The profile seller Edgars Apalais has denied that people did not give consent for their contact details to be shared.
The programme was sent photographs and lists of names, email addresses, dates of birth and details of sexual orientation by the website Usdate. Some profiles included photographs of celebrities such as Brad Pitt, Michael Caine and the TV chef Rick Stein.
Some of the contact details sold were genuine. The email addresses of academics, a House of Lords life peer and BBC employees were included on the list. All of these individuals told the programme that they had never used a dating website.
Gerald Masterson tried online dating a couple of years ago but said he did not meet anyone and stopped using the websites.
He was surprised to learn that his personal details had been sold to Panorama as part of the bulk purchase of fake profiles.
"I am angry and feel they have taken my identity…. I feel it's just a money-making scam," he said.
It is a breach of data protection law if someone sells your information without consent and if the information is inaccurate. The material sold to Panorama appears to meet both criteria.
The man who sold the BBC these profiles calls himself Edgars Apalais. Panorama tracked him down to the Dominican Republic and eventually he agreed to an interview. We secretly recorded the conversation.
He denied that people had not given their consent for their contact details, photographs or personal information to be shared.
"This is sensitive personal data. I'm very concerned to see that these lists are being sold on. You've got lists about these individuals' sexuality," said Simon Entwisle, Director of Operations at the Information Commissioner's Office, the body responsible for ensuring companies protect private data.
"If you're talking about significant numbers of names, that's a significant breach of the data protection principles potentially,"
You can watch Panorama - Tainted Love: The Dark Side of Online Dating Monday 29 July at 20:30 BST on BBC1 and then on the BBC iPlayer in the UK.