How to handle that unwelcome sms marketing or subscription message.

Published on: May 19, 2011

Consumers receiving unwanted SMS marketing messages from companies that they have not directly supplied with their cellphone numbers should report the spammer to the Wireless Application Service Providers’ Association of South Africa (WASPA).

That’s according to Russel Stromin, head of WASPA’s Code of Conduct (WCoC) Committee. He said that the association takes consumers’ rights to privacy very seriously and forbids its members from sending unsolicited messages to consumers whose numbers they have acquired through third-party databases.

Said Stromin: “According to the WCoC, businesses need your explicit consent to send you marketing messages via SMS if you have not directly given them your number. You can lodge a complaint against any WASPA member that breaks this rule.”

In addition, consumers have a further remedy in the form of the new Consumer Protection Act, which stipulates that any company embarking on a direct marketing campaign must first compare their list of numbers they are sending SMSs to against an new national opt-out register called the Do Not Call Registry (DNCR) and ensure that any names on such a register are deleted off their database. This DNCR is however not yet available as it is currently out for tender for its development. While the DNCR will apply to all companies who send SMSs, users will only gain benefit from the DNCR if they take the trouble to register their details on the DNCR.

WASPA’s WCoC however is designed to prevent all spam, no matter the consumer’s action or inaction as the case may be since a company may only send SMSs if they have a direct and recent business relationship with the recipient.

WASPA has vigorously enforced its anti-spam provisions since 2005 and can thus claim some considerable experience in practical and technical implementation of anti-spam provisions and its WCoC is seen as a very effective means of stopping spam for the majority.

The WCoC specifies that each SMS message must have a ‘STOP’ command inserted into it such that if someone sends a reply SMS back with the word ‘STOP’ in it, the company that originally sent the message must remove that number from any further SMS communications. However, WASPA has noticed that some consumers are reluctant to use this useful ‘STOP’ facility as they are concerned that this will simply confirm to the sender that their number is active. But with SMS, the sender already knows that your number is ‘active’, because it receives a delivery report on delivery of the SMS to the phone.

If the sender is a respectable company and you opted in to receive its communications at some point, you can usually depend on the company concerned to remove you from its database following a ‘STOP’ request. This reply may only be charged for at the standard SMS rate. “That said, the suggested opt-out procedure should only be followed if you opted-in in the first place,” Stromin said.

With premium rate messages, WASPs must provide an alternative opt-out procedure at the lowest tariffed rate available. All premium rate services require explicit opt-in and no direct marketing messages may be sent from premium rate numbers. Neither may WASPs ever send any unsolicited messages from premium rate numbers at all.

“These instances should be reported to WASPA since they are serious contraventions of our Code,” Stromin said.

Stromin noted that many people inadvertently sign up for premium services or forget that they have signed up for a premium service. They then think that the ‘welcome-to-the-service’ SMS messages and monthly ‘reminder-of-subscription’ SMS messages the service provider sends in line with the demands of the WASPA Code of Conduct are spam SMS messages.

The reminder message should look like this: “Reminder: You are subscribed to VanishAirtime’s daily ringtone club. Cost R5/day. For help call 082 123 xxxx . To unsub SMS STOP keyword to 31xxx.”

These messages are not spam. “If you receive one of these messages, you are already being billed, so don’t ignore it,” Stromin said. “If you did not subscribe to the service, report the message to WASPA. If you did subscribe, follow the opt-out instructions in the message.”

If a WASP ignores a valid opt-out request, it is regarded as a serious contravention of the WASPA code. Opt-out instructions sent via SMS can be verified by the network operator. This evidence will be used against a WASP in case of a formal investigation.