Three marketers on the panel, including Manis, said legitimate advertising should include an opt-in permission from the cell phone user before it is sent, and Manis said his organization is working on a code of conduct for wireless marketing that would allow customers to set limits on the number of ads they receive and to opt out when they've had enough.
"If there is something that'll (keep legitimate wireless marketing) from developing and sustaining for a long time, it is spam," he said of his infant industry. "It is a threat."
Joffe, founder of Genuity Inc., urged the marketers to keep opt-in as the gold standard, unlike many e-mail spammers. Few people would have problems with marketing based on opt-in permissions, he said, but many e-mail marketers don't give users that option.
The attitude from e-mail marketers, Joffe said, is that opting in isn't necessary, and the only time unwanted e-mail is spam is when it's from some other company.
Jiro Murayama, manager of the Washington, D.C., office of Japanese wireless provider NTT DoCoMo Inc., said his company has already experienced significant problems with unwanted wireless advertising. But the company has cut the number of text messages from 150 million a day to 90 million on its Internet enabled system, with more than 37 million subscribers, through a combination of lawsuits against spammers and legislation approved by the Japanese government.
"As traffic over wireless networks continues to grow, so will spam," Murayama said. "Spam to wireless is likely to become a social problem in the U.S. as well."
But the U.S. doesn't have current laws that anticipate all forms of wireless spam, panelists noted. While the 12-year-old Telephone Consumer Protection Act prohibits messages sent to telephone numbers attached to cellular devices, if those messages are prerecorded or use an autodialer, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has not determined if that law would apply to such messages sent to a wireless device through an e-mail address, said Margaret Egler, a member of the FCC's Consumer Information Bureau.
Albert Gidari, a partner with the Perkins Coie LLP law firm, suggested the fine-point distinctions in the law no longer matter, and the U.S. Congress needs to end the uncertainty surrounding wireless marketing and spam in general. "The very distinction between a wireless telephone and a computer has disappeared," he said. "These regulatory structures just don't apply. It's a real problem trying to stretch these statutes to try to meet the behavior."