Beware WASPs tricking you out of airtime

Mira Networks, a wireless application service provider (WASP) in South Africa, will be taken on by Vodacom for what its customer complaints division has described as a “misrepresentation” of one of its services.

This is according to an e-mail which was sent to a Vodacom user who had complained that they had been charged for a WASP service that they never subscribed to.

The service in question is Cellspice, a wireless application service that charged R7/day for access to adult content.

In the course of its investigation of the complaint, Vodacom, as a precaution, suspended Cellspice from operating on its network.

Mira Networks was asked about the suspension of Cellspice from Vodacom, but avoided answering questions on the topic.

A few days after the suspension was enacted, Vodacom’s WASP team found that the Cellspice opt-in prompt for web-based subscription requests was disguised to look like a so-called “age gate”.

Age gates are common on websites that contain age-restricted content such as certain movie or video game trailers, or pornography. One of the simpler forms an age gate can take is a prompt asking whether you’re aged 18 or over.

Vodacom’s double opt-in system

The web-based confirmation dialog is one of a number of methods Vodacom’s double opt-in system lets WASPs prompt users to subscribe to their services.

Each opt-in mechanism applies under different circumstances, according to Vodacom, and the following table summarises them:

Vodacom double opt-in mechanisms
Opt-in mechanism Applicable scenario example
SMS If a subscription request was sent by SMS or USSD
In-browser confirmation dialog with code input When users subscribe over WAP or the web from a device with a different number than the cellphone number being subscribed.
In-browser confirmation dialog without code input When users subscribe over WAP or the web from a device with the same number as the cellphone number being subscribed.

The availability of an Internet-based WASP subscription mechanism raised the question: at what point in the process does Vodacom make a subscriber’s number available to the WASP?

In its response to the user’s queries on this, Vodacom said that only once the double opt-in process is complete do they provide the WASP with a user’s phone number.

Although it is encouraging that a WASP won’t get your number if you accidentally click on a banner, this still means you can subscribe to wireless application services over your mobile data connection without receiving an opt-in SMS of some kind.

Vodacom double opt-in Internet confirmation
Vodacom double opt-in Internet confirmation

In the case of the user who complained about being subscribed to Cellspice, Vodacom said that the following happened:

  1. The user clicked on a Cellspice banner, which sent the initial opt-in request.
  2. A prompt similar to the one pictured above appeared (the example shows where the confirmation code would go, but it wasn’t shown in this case).
  3. The user, possibly confusing the prompt with a normal age gate, clicked the “confirm” button.

While the cost of the subscription was still shown on the opt-in popup, the field that was supposed to display the name of the service instead said “18+ Confirm”, and where the logo should go the words “Video loaded!” appeared instead.

Based on this, Vodacom said it will issue the user with a refund and take up this “misrepresentation” with Cellspice.

Vodacom said it has also changed the “Confirm” button on the opt-in dialog to say “Subscribe” in an effort to better indicate to users that a fee would be applicable upon clicking the button.

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Beware WASPs tricking you out of airtime