Mobile spam goes commercial

Mobile spam goes commercial

Over 200 million Chinese cell phone subscribers have good reason to be annoyed having been sent unsolicited "commercial messages" by one of the country's largest advertising agencies, Focus Media.

The company had managed to obtain subscriber details on the open market, seemingly not a difficult achievement given the lack of any privacy protection in China. However, Focus Media has now publicly apologised for sending this unwanted spam, and China Mobile added that it planned to shut down Focus Media's message service port, preventing the company from sending bulk messages. China Unicom also reportedly said that it is working to prevent spam from reaching customers.

Even countries with more mature privacy laws are not immune from mobile spammers. The Italian Authority Guaranteeing Communications published an alert a few months ago to consumers and operators warning them of the growing phenomenon of mobile spam messages. It is estimated that as many as three million Italian mobile users receive SMS requests each day but most are unaware of the potential cost implications of acting on the message, thought to be as high as €20 million a year.

While fixed line ISPs can, and seemingly have, turned a blind-eye to this possibility of defrauding their customers, the mobile operators cannot. One simple remedy to the more obvious scam of attempting to persuade subscribers to call a premium number is for the operator to detect the premium rate code within any message. Operators could then insert a warning, delivered simultaneously, alerting the recipient to the cost of the call. -Paul

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