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.
In the case of the user who complained about being subscribed to Cellspice, Vodacom said that the following happened:
- The user clicked on a Cellspice banner, which sent the initial opt-in request.
- 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).
- 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.