Practicing safe mobile marketing.

Published on: 26th August 2009

Business and marketers face significant risks when using SMS messaging providers that are not members of the Wireless Application Service Providers Association (WASPA).

Local network operators require all local messaging providers to belong to WASPA, and also contractually require these providers to not utilise international SMS gateways for local delivery. Foreign service providers, connected to foreign network operators do not have this requirement.

Such service providers could still terminate bulk SMS traffic to SA subscriber phones, and many SA businesses deal directly or indirectly with foreign messaging providers. Most of the foreign messaging providers are not endorsed by the local Mobile Network Operators and are not part of South Africa’s Wireless Application Service Providers’ Association (WASPA) which has a code of conduct governing the commercial use of SMS messaging.

SMS messages that originate from foreign SMS gateways are more difficult to trace. For this reason, criminal activities such as phishing scams, spam and identity theft of a company and its customers, can mostly not be traced to the originators via these gateways. Local mobile network operators actively seek out and block foreign messaging routes that are abused. Businesses and marketers with legitimate messaging programs, but utilising foreign SMS gateways, are often negatively impacted when the foreign SMS gateway that they use is blocked.

Unregulated international gateways, albeit occasionally cheaper than local gateways, fall outside of South Africa’s telecoms regulatory ecosystem and businesses and operators face legal and reputational risks if commercial messages are sent through these gateways. Taking legal action against a foreign messaging provider is difficult, and hence utilising a foreign provider reduces the protection afforded to businesses by local laws such as the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act (ECT act).

When using SMS messaging for business communication or marketing purposes, businesses should select a trusted messaging provider that will protect the confidentiality and privacy of client communications. By selecting a messaging provider that is a member of WASPA and one that utilises local mobile network operators for local delivery; legal risks, privacy risks and confidentiality risks are reduced significantly. WASPA members are held accountable to the WASPA Code of Conduct, and local service providers have to comply to the ECT act.

Receiving an SMS message where the sender ID was manipulated, is a clear indication that a foreign messaging provider was used. Sender ID manipulation, for example, where an unknown sender uses a personal or business name instead of the numerical mobile number that gets displayed on a mobile phone, opens up a platform for rife abuse. Mobile numbers can be spoofed (faked), and can be used to impersonate individuals, friends, family members or business networks to extort information for financial gain.

According to Chaper 8, section 86 and 87 of the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act, 2002, pertaining to unauthorised access to, interception of or interference with data, for the purpose of obtaining any unlawful advantage by causing fake data to be produced with the intent that it be considered or acted upon as if it were authentic, is guilty of an offence.

In light of these risks, South African companies should look at combining their messaging and marketing efforts with companies that are WASPA-accredited, have invested sufficient capex to run these services reliably to avoid sending messages after hours or multiple times, because their platform cannot manage efficiently the load or the complexity of submitting traffic to multiple Network gateways. Companies should also look to service providers that use mobile gateways that do not allow businesses to do sender ID manipulation.

All members of WASPA must act in accordance with the WASPA code of conduct. This gives businesses the peace of mind that their campaigns are targeted, secure, and within the legal framework of South Africa’s mobile marketing arena.