Midnight SMS warns South Africans to wash their hands

Many South Africans were surprised to be woken up after midnight on Saturday 28 November by an SMS from Discovery Health.

Roughly between the hours of 00:00 and 06:00 on Saturday, Discovery Health sent the following warning via SMS to many of its members:

“Discovery Health: [Customer name], our analytical data indicate that your district is experiencing a rise in COVID-19 infections. Remember to follow basic preventive measures like wearing a mask and washing your hands regularly. Download the COVID Alert SA app and visit out COVID-19 hotspot tracker.”

Those customers who had been woken up by the SMS were understandably upset about their sleep being interrupted by a reminder to wash their hands, and a number of the disgruntled recipients contacted MyBroadband regarding the oddly-timed SMS.

It should be noted that the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) and the WASPA Code of Conduct prohibit the sending of marketing messages after 19:00 and before 08:00.

However, the message sent by Discovery Health was not advertising any products and only included a link to the Discovery COVID-19 hotspot tracker on its website, meaning it most likely is not bound by this restriction.

The question remained as to why Discovery sent out COVID-19 warning messages in the small hours of Saturday morning, though, and we subsequently reached out to the company for an explanation.

System error interrupts sleep

Discovery assured MyBroadband that it normally sends SMSs to clients and members during working hours as stipulated by the CPA, with the exception of emergencies, OTPs, or storm warnings.

The late-night text South Africans received from their health insurer was due to a problem with its systems, Discovery explained.

“In this instance, we unfortunately experienced a technical error that led to a repeat SMS for the COVID hotspot alert being sent at odd times on Saturday to Discovery Health clients,” Discovery told MyBroadband.

“This was resolved as soon as we became aware of the issue.”

Discovery added that this message intends to identify and communicate COVID-19 hotspots to clients to protect them from the virus.

“The data for these SMS’s is generated by Discovery Health analysing a combination of real-time claims data from our members and publicly available data to identify district-level hot spots for COVID-19 infections,” Discovery said.

“As we continue to analyse this data across the country, emerging hotspots will be identified, and members in close proximity will be notified.”

Discovery assured MyBroadband that it would not repeat this error and would send these COVID-19 warnings to clients at more appropriate times.

The company also apologised to affected members for the inconvenience of its late-night texts.

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Midnight SMS warns South Africans to wash their hands