Spam SMS – why South Africans pay to reply “Stop”

The Sunday Times’ Power Report has taken up the case of consumers who are tired of receiving marketing SMS messages from companies, and having to pay to reply “Stop” to opt out.

One case highlighted was that of John Paterson, who said he received an SMS from Truworths to open an account.

Paterson said he is not a Truworths customer and never consented to any marketing from the company. On top of that, he had to pay for the cost of the SMS he sent back to stop the “spam”.

According to the newspaper, the Consumer Protection Act allows direct marketing messages to be sent to consumers without their permission – as long as they are given the option to “opt out”.

While the Act states that a consumer cannot be charged an opt out fee, the cost of communicating the message – replying Stop via SMS – is not covered by the Act.

This means that cellphone users have to pay for the “Stop” SMS they send in reply to advertising messages they do not wish to receive.

The Wireless Application Service Providers’ Association does state that senders of bulk SMS messages must have consent from the consumer before sending the “spam content”, though.

Another body looking to put a stop to consumers having to pay to opt out of unsolicited advertising is the Direct Marketing Association of South Africa.

The association said it is working with “networks, service providers, and bulk SMS senders” to ensure consumers do not pay to opt out of marketing messages.

Reverse-billing option

The report stated that Vodacom, MTN, and Cell C all offer a zero-rated number or a reverse-billing option for the SMS service providers, which can save consumers paying for the opt out message.

Cell C said as long as messages originate through it zero-rated line, it does not charge users for a reply – although it’s about to change to a system where service providers pay for reply costs.

Vodacom and MTN charge the service provider for replies on the reverse-billing option, but not all bulk SMS senders use the service — meaning the message recipient has to cough up for the reply to a standard-rate number.

Until a solution is reached, the report stated, cellphone users may have to pay to reply “Stop” to advertising messages they never gave permission to be sent to them.

The full report is available in the 30 August 2015 edition of the Sunday Times.

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Spam SMS – why South Africans pay to reply “Stop”