Should you pay to stop SMS spam?

The quickest way to block a company from sending SMS messages to you is to reply to the sender’s SMS with the word STOP. This SMS will however cost you money – a practice which is not in line with the consumer protection act (CPA).

The CPA allows sending direct marketing communications to consumers, but with the condition that the company must provide a mechanism to afford each recipient the opportunity to opt-out at no cost from these direct marketing messages.

To send a STOP SMS will typically cost subscribers between 50c and 80c per SMS, which means that a company which sends bulk SMS communication is in contravention of the CPA.

“Until free opt-out becomes possible, it is technically illegal to send both unsolicited direct marketing as well as solicited direct marketing via SMS. It should be noted that the CPA does not distinguish between unsolicited and solicited direct marketing,” BulkSMS said in a recent press statement.

Vodacom currently provides WASPs with the option of a reverse billing channel (where the WASP pays for return SMS to certain numbers), but service providers are concerned that this may incur significant costs if the system is abused.

“With the WASP paying for opt-out SMS messages their financial risk is unlimited. Initial experiments with toll free SMS numbers indicated that these are regularly targeted by individual MSISDNs sending up to 2,000 messages which are charged to the WASP,” explained BulkSMS in their press statement. “Clearly, toll free SMS numbers are fraught with problems from the WASP perspective.”

Vodacom however feels that WASPs should not be concerned about abuse. “We currently have a reverse billing mechanism which is being used by WASPs. We’ve not detected any patterns of abuse neither have we received any complaints along these lines. We’re also able to stop this type of abuse if it is reported to us,” Vodacom said.

It is also interesting to note that that Vodacom charges WASPs 20c for wholesale bulk SMS messages, while the reverse charge SMS messages costs WASPs 50c.

Some WASPs are not happy to pay 250% more for reverse charge SMS than standard SMS, but Vodacom explained that “the pricing is set as part of our overall business model with WASPs and there is actually a difference in costs between the SMS which is mobile terminating and the SMS which is mobile originating”.

WASPA was asked whether they support a free opt-out SMS service, but the organisation did not provide feedback by the time of publication. WASPA also did not say why STOP SMSs from their members are not free.

MTN, 8ta and Virgin Mobile did not provide feedback about the fact that their subscribers have to pay to opt-out of solicited and unsolicited SMS communication.

It would seem that, apart from Vodacom, the mobile operators and WASPA prefer to put their heads in the sand when it comes to the fact that SMS direct marketing currently contravenes the Consumer Protection Act.

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Should you pay to stop SMS spam?