Unwanted messages trigger call for ban on SMS ads

ITworld.com –

AMSTERDAM -- Responding to a rising number of complaints about unwanted SMS (Short Message Service) messages, the Dutch national telecommunications regulator launched an inquiry that could lead to outlawing what has been dubbed SMS-spam.

Mobile phone operators, the Dutch consumer union and regulator Onafhankelijke Post en Telecommunicatie Authoriteit (OPTA) late last year started receiving complaints about deceiving messages advertising a premium-rate adult telephone service on their mobile phones via SMS.

The message in question read: "Please call me," followed by the number.

"The recipients are led to believe somebody they know sent them the message," said Jeroen Nugteren, head of communications at OPTA. "When the number was called it turned out to be an adult service charging 2.50 guilders (US$1.04) a minute."

Nugteren said OPTA had also received complaints about SMS messages trying to raise funds for charities.

The inquiry, expected to be finished in April, focuses on determining where SMS-spam falls in the Dutch Telecommunications Act. The act provides for an opt-in method for advertising per fax and an opt-out system for direct marketing by telephone.

Opt-in requires the recipient to have asked for messages. Opt-out requires the recipient to take action to have his address deleted from distribution lists.

"We are lobbying government for an opt-in system," said Ewald van Kouwen, spokesman for de Consumentenbond, the Dutch consumer union.

Libertel NV, part of mobile phone giant Vodafone Group PLC, supports OPTA's action, but predicts problems enforcing a ban.

"Tracing the origin of SMS-spam is tough. It is mostly sent from a computer via the Internet, using third-party gateways," said Arie de Zeeuw, spokesman for Libertel. "We are only the messenger and can't possibly look at every message to determine if it's wanted."

Libertel, with 3.18 million customers the Netherlands' second largest mobile phone operator, does offer SMS services to corporate customers, said De Zeeuw. "But there are very strict contracts, forbidding transmittal of spam," he said.

"The use of SMS is really growing phenomenally; we should guard the positive sides of the service," said Bram Oudshoorn, a spokesman for KPN Mobile NV, the largest Dutch mobile operator.

"There will most likely be a central registry of mobile numbers belonging to people who don't want ads on their phone," said Oudshoorn. Such an opt-out registry already exists in the Netherlands for telephone marketing and has been proposed by the European Commission for e-mail marketing.

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