Carphone Warehouse smacked over SMS spam

The U.K.'s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) last week upheld two complaints about an SMS (short message service) message sent by cell phone retailer The Carphone Warehouse Ltd. to its customers.

In June, the company sent a message saying "For fantastic free handsets, inc up to 6 months free line rental or a free DVD player, call Carphone Warehouse on ... t&c's apply ..." the ASA said in a statement.

The first complainant said that the claim "free DVD player" was misleading, because the message did not clearly state a new cell phone contract was needed to receive the player, while the second simply said that the message was sent without consumer consent, the ASA said.

Advertising in the U.K. is controlled through a self-regulatory scheme and the ASA lacks legal powers, but most advertisers abide by its judgments, ASA press spokeswoman Claire Forbes said Monday. As a last resort, the ASA can refer a case to the Office of Fair Trading which can then investigate legal proceedings, she said.

The first complaint was upheld because the need for a new contract to receive a DVD player was a significant condition that should have been spelled out, and the words "t&c's apply" were insufficient. In the future, the ASA asked that Carphone Warehouse make such conditions clear and state any other significant conditions.

On the second complaint, Carphone Warehouse claimed an external company sent the message on its behalf. Personal information, including cell phone numbers, was collected via a national shopping survey, it said. Survey participants, according to Carphone Warehouse, gave permission for their information to be used by selecting not to opt out of marketing communications when completing the survey. A customer filed the complaints with the ASA and asked to opt out of marketing communications after receiving the message.

However, the message was sent shortly after new rules were put in place at the ASA, requiring explicit opt-in from consumers before they receive promotional messages, Forbes said.

The Carphone Warehouse was not immediately available for comment.

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