War against spam moves to mobile phones

Spam sent by text message could become a bigger problem than email-based spam unless the industry takes action, according to the mobile phone regulator
Written by Will Sturgeon, Contributor

More than two-thirds of us have received spam on our mobile phones, raising fears that it won't be long before the medium falls prey to the same barrage of unsolicited marketing messages as our email.

And while the levels may never hit the millions of unwanted messages seen with PC-based email each day, the problem may well have a greater impact on end users because of the reliance placed on mobile phones and the fact most users regard them as a far more personal point of contact than email. In short, mobile spam will be an even greater invasion of privacy.

The limited storage capacity of many mobiles may already mean some users are unable to receive legitimate SMS messages.

A recent survey conducted by Silicon.com over the past five days reveals that 69 per cent of respondents have received spam on their mobile phone.

Mike Grenville, chief executive of the mobile messaging association 160 characters, said: "I find nearly everybody I have spoken to has received spam on their mobile phone but while it can be irritating I don't think it will ever become the problem we are seeing with email.

"For a start, every test message costs money. The days of free texts have gone -- and this is going to be a major factor in controlling the amount of mobile spam. If somebody wants to send a million emails perhaps from the US to addresses in Europe then it doesn't really hurt them too much but if somebody wants to send a million text messages across the Atlantic then that's a lot of dosh," added Grenville.

As with your email address, Grenville warns that what you do with your mobile phone number online may have a direct impact upon how much spam you receive. He made specific mention of companies offering ringtone downloads as being a source of mobile phone number 'harvesting'.

Gary Corbett, managing director of Opera Telecom, which operates premium mobile phone services for companies such as EMAP and Tiscali, said: "It's about time SMS service providers and network operators started to take more responsibility for self-regulation in order to safeguard the credibility of our fledgling industry.

"SMS has been on the crest of a wave as marketeers start to appreciate the potential of its application within their environment. However, mobile phone regulator ICSTIS [Independent Committee for the Supervision of Standards of Telephone Information Services] continues to receive a growing number of consumer complaints as some mobile gateway companies consistently ignore guidelines and exploit consumers."

Corbett has little sympathy for those companies bringing his industry into disrepute.

"Let's get tough with offenders and impose heavy penalties for misuse of SMS services," he said. "And if necessary let's lobby to terminate licence agreements and access to networks. This way we can banish the unscrupulous traders to history."

160 characters' Grenville offered hope to users who are plagued by SMS spam. While the problem of email spam may not be solved by a tightening of EU legislation, due to much of it originating outside the EU, Grenville believes most SMS spam is sent within the country of origin, due to the costs associated.

As such it will become easier for law makers and organisations such as ICSTIS to levy fines on unscrupulous users.

For more info, visit the ICSTIS website.

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