Vodafone considers charging for mobile spam

Companies that want to send millions of junk messages to Vodafone customers could soon have to pay for each one

Mobile network operator Vodafone is considering charging business customers for sending multimedia messages in an attempt to prevent its mobile messaging systems becoming clogged up with unsolicited junk mail.

The measures were prompted by concerns over the threats that its customers will face as it rolls out handsets that support more sophisticated services.

Spam is seen as a major worry. Vodafone is hoping to reduce the amount of junk mail received by its customers with what it calls 'calling party pays', where companies that send messages to customers on its system must pay for each one.

"If you want to send a million messages to our users, you'd better have a million times 10 cents," Vodafone public policy executive Rob Borthwick told the Openwave Messaging Anti-Abuse conference in London.

"When negotiating with other partners, we will push for mutual calling party pays consents to be used."

Vodafone's Japanese subsidiary has already fallen victim to MMS spammers, and it is estimated that just 15 percent of its network traffic is legitimate. Borthwick acknowledged that the operator could have set up its Japanese systems much better, and that failing to do so has hit it in the wallet.

"We have had to deploy Openwave's excellent, but clearly not cheap, protection," said Borthwick, taking a dig at the conference sponsor.

There is growing concern about the potential dangers of the 3G phones and smartphones that are being deployed in the UK. Child safety groups have been especially concerned that they will give children unsupervised access to the web.

Mobile operators are concerned that MMS spam could be a major headache, with the nightmare scenario being that customers receive -- and are alerted to -- a new unsolicited and unwanted message every few minutes .

Industry experts agree that the abuse of mobile networks is potentially a big problem.

"Mobile abuse is a reality; it's potentially worse than in the fixed-line market, and it's probably addressable in a similar fashion," said Colin Abouchabki, executive head of products and services at Vodacom.

"Because your phone alerts you when it receives a message, mobile spam is much closer to a junk phone call than to junk mail," said Ian Fogg, an analyst at Jupiter Research.