The spread of mass panic through SMS is unnecessary and people need to learn to look at information with a more critical eye.
People in general are too quick to pass on information without checking if it originates from someone they trust. Propagating certain dubious and false information can often have devastating results. The origin of such messages are rarely known, but the intentions are often far from good.
We live in a world where everyone is a potential publisher. Modern technology gives us the opportunity to spread information far and wide through a variety of different channels. Through blogs, social media applications, e-mail, SMS, and chat programs, we can send information, opinions and multi-media to virtually anywhere in the world.
Having so many means available to spread and gather information has many benefits. For one, governments cannot get away with hiding information. Protests of doubt around the legitimacy of last year’s Iranian elections results were proof of this. The protests were dubbed “The Twitter Revolution” due to the protesters' dependence on social networking platform Twitterand other similar Internet sites to communicate with each other.
This mass-panic through technology is not a new phenomenon - in 1938 the first segment of HG Wells’ War of the Worlds was aired over theColumbia Broadcasting Systemradio network. Since the first episode was done as a simulatednews bulletin, many listeners thought that an actualMartianinvasion was taking place. As the news spread from person to person, America was soon caught in a state of mass panic and widespread confusion.
More than 70 years on, people are still letting themselves fall victim to rumours and hearsay without first determining the accuracy of so-called ‘facts’. Take the recent politically-laden SMSes that did the rounds around the time of Eugene Terre’Blanche’s murder. The messages were highly sensationalist, potentially damaging and very much untrue. Yet, they managed to spread mass panic, unrest, fear and scepticism among citizens of the country.
Don’t just send it on
What many fail to realise is that with the increased power of mass information dissemination, comes increased responsibility. One has to become more discerning in how one approaches communications using new technologies.
The SMS channel is an especially dangerous means of transmitting upsetting messages. Because it is delivered directly to your phone and generally used as a means to alert, the gravity of the situation is amplified. The key is to stop and think before sending an SMS. Before potentially adding to or building on an already existing problem, ask yourself what the purpose of the message is and what the results would be if you were to send it on. Simply put, society needs to change and begin looking at the source of their information more critically.
SMS technology allows for SMS messages to be sent from an alphanumeric sender ID, instead of just a numeric cellphone number. For example, SARS can now send an SMS message to you with the word ‘SARS’ appearing in the ‘From’ field at the top of the message.
The main benefit of using an alphanumeric sender ID is that it is much easier for consumers to recognise the sender.
However, what many don’t realise is that it is possible for this SMS feature to be abused by criminals who can spoof legitimate company or organisation’s sender ID.
SAPS recently sent the following message to almost all MTN subscribers:
origin address: SAPS message: SAPS urges SA citizens to voluntarily hand in all illegal firearms before 11 April. For more info call National Firearms Call Centre 012 353 6111
Criminals could quite easily send the same message, with SAPS as sender, but replace the contact number with their own (the NF Call Centre number does not work anyway), and in this way collect a number of illegal firearms.
It is worth investigating to what extent sender IDs are controlled locally and globally. There are currently a multitude of international SMS messaging providers that offer sender ID modification, with varying levels of control. Mobile operators also have differing degrees of control for ID modification.
In South Africa, Vodacom blocks all international SMS traffic with a modified alpha sender ID. It now offers sender ID control to Vodacom Wireless Application Service providers (WASPs), making sure that each ID used is fully registered. Consumers on the Vodacom network are guaranteed that a message coming from ‘SARS’, for example, and was sent via a fully registered Vodacom WASP, and a member of WASPA.
At this stage, however, those on any network other than Vodacom cannot fully trust sender IDs. A message that says it comes from ‘SARS’ or ‘SAPS’, could in fact be a phishing attack or an advance fee fraud (419) scam. The message could originate from a foreign fraud syndicate using a network based in another foreign country, bypassing the SMS Messaging Centre of your home network, and bypassing WASPA regulations.
If proper controls are embraced by the industry as a whole, alphanumeric sender IDs could be a very effective safeguard against a number of SMS scams, by allowing consumers to easily recognise the sender without the possibility of spoofing.
When we were children the standing joke was that the kids, had to set the video machine for their non-technical parents. We’d grown up with video machines, while for our parents they were still new-fangled devices.
Fast forward to today and consider cell phones, the Internet, Skype, instant messaging, Facebook, Twitter, Mxit, PVRs, Xboxes, e-books and the endless list of new communication technologies. These are all things that our children have grown up with, and take to like fish to water - while we probably only got our first cell phone when we started our first job, and then only used it for emergencies.
Every generation’s children complain bitterly that their parents just don’t understand them, with their parents muttering about how they did things better in their day. But never has a generation gap been as wide as it is today, with parents having very little understanding of the opportunities and the risks involved with the digital environments their children are growing up in.
A lack of understanding of the risks and dangers involved often results in two extremes in response from parents, neither of which is ideal. On the one hand parents might bury their heads in the sand because of the apparent technical complexity and leave their children to fend for themselves in the face of some very real dangers, and navigate important rites of passage unsupported and unassisted.
Or, alternatively, a parent might over react because they don’t understand the dangers involved and simply ban all things digital. Which not only leads to unnecessary conflict with the child and cuts them off from their social circle, but also disadvantages them in their adult life and careers, due to lack of experience communicating in a digital environment.
Parents have to educate themselves to understand both the opportunities and the dangers associated with digital communication technology in order to better guide their children and protect them from harm.
Some of the vital things parents and children need to learn include:
1.People aren’t always who they say they are. Just as adults fall for email phishing scams, children can get taken in by people misrepresenting themselves online with harmful intent.
2.Think before you post. In our day, playground conversations with our friends, complaining about teachers perhaps, ended as soon as the bell rang for the end of break. Today however, these conversations take place on Facebook, for anyone to read or forward even years later, and are almost impossible to delete.
3.Likewise, children need to think before they respond to things that other people have posted. A casual jokey comment about someone can very quickly escalate into an orchestrated cyber-bullying attack, with bystanders becoming accomplices at the click of mouse.
4.It’s not just about computers. Many parents don’t understand that the Internet their children can access via their cell phones is the same Internet, warts and all, accessed via a computer. Not only that, it is so much easier to make purchases on the Internet via cell phone as it just takes the click on a link, rather than entering credit card details.
Unfortunately though, too many technology companies simply release their products into the world, and don’t take responsibility for educating customers on how to use them safely. One of the places parents can go to educate themselves is www.parentscorner.org.za, a BulkSMS.com initiative aimed at informing parents about children and mobile phones. The blog contains advice from a family therapist; discussions around difficult topics such as whether you should monitor your children’s online activities; and useful links to other resources. The blog is complemented by a lecture series for schools and other interested organisations.
At the end of the day, it is worth remembering that the technology itself is neither good nor bad, but how it is used can have positive or negative consequences. Think of some of the benefits technology gives parents, for instance, thanks to cell phones children can easily call their parents in an emergency. But to benefit from these positives, parents have a responsibility to educate themselves about the technology, and protect their children from the dangers.
The 2010 BulkSMS Messaging Awards were won by Shoreangling.co.za, coming out ahead of hundreds of other worthy entries from commercial and non-commercial organisations that use SMS messaging for innovative services or their day-to-day communications.
The BulkSMS Messaging Awards were run during March of this year as part of BulkSMS.com’s tenth year anniversary celebrations. Clients were invited to submit entries detailing their innovative use of SMS messaging and the top three finalists were awarded with cash and SMS credits as prizes.
The winners were announced on 20 May after a judging panel had reviewed all shortlisted submissions. The panel of judges consisted of Jenny McKinnell, the executive director of the Cape IT Initiative, Mary-Anne Flanagan, who runs the business incubator MambaVen, and Dr Pieter Streicher, a founder and managing director of BulkSMS.com
The first prize winner, Shoreangling.co.za, run by Caranx Angling, is a virtual service that brings together SMS messaging and marine conservation to record fish catches as well as educates sport anglers about protected fish and shark species. Shoreangling.co.za operates with the understanding that due to dwindling fish catches the oceans are certainly not inexhaustible and that there is an important need to create sustainable angling practices.
Shoreangling.co.za does this by providing a way for anglers to record the length and weight of their catches by SMS. By using a premium rated and automated SMS reply service anglers receive fish catch information that indicate whether the catch is within regulated size and bag limits and the closed season for the species. Anglers are also able to request official South African catch records via SMS so as to compare their catch. In addition, the service has made tide and moon phases information available through the SMS channel.
“Thank you very much for the great prize and the great service you are offering,” says Pieter Wilcocks, who implemented the automated SMS messaging service for Shoreangling.co.za. “When Chris de Vries, my business partner, contacted me to make his years worth of research available to other anglers, I really couldn't find a better solution other than what BulkSMS.com is providing. Your support on the services you provide has really been great over the past few years.”
The other finalists were CPD Solutions in second place, and Abrie van Wyk, in third place.
CPD Solutions has SMS-enabled aspects of its personal development services for medical, paramedical, veterinary and other professions. According to CPD Solutions’ Riaan Bezuidenhout, “BulkSMS.com is a core component of the CPD Solutions System and it works so efficiently that I often forget its there in the background somewhere. I think from a developer's point of view that is the ultimate compliment.”
Abrie van Wyk, a cerebral palsy sufferer, demonstrated in his entry how BulkSMS.com’s application-to-person messaging service has enabled him to conduct his personal and business communications via SMS. “As I cannot use my hands properly, I therefore find it very difficult to use a cellphone with its small keys, and because I speak with difficulty people cannot understand what I am saying on a regular telephone. When I got BulkSMS.com a new world opened for me! Now I can communicate with family and friends via SMS from my computer. I also run a small business and I use the SMS messaging system to notify my clients when their goods are ready to be fetched.”
Several other entries came close to a final placing and received special mention from the judging panel. iTrack Live, Strictly Tickets, Urban DVD, Middleburg Ferrochrome, SAMusic.co.za all demonstrated innovative commercial applications of SMS services and communications. The Linbro Park Community Policing Forum, Bakwena Ba Mabiletsa Clan, Kalusta Karjiker Educational Society and Siyakhula Education Foundation each provided excellent examples of how public benefit organisations providing non-profit or community services have made SMS messaging central to how they communicated and interact with their beneficiaries.
“The entries we received for the BulkSMS Messaging Awards are testimony to the uptake of SMS messaging within commercial and non-commercial sectors in South Africa and shows that SMS is here to stay. We are very encouraged to see how many of our clients who entered the awards showed how they have been able to build upon our messaging platform to SMS-enable their organisations’ services or communications,” say Dr Streicher.
Do you know how to spot an SMS 419 scam, phishing attack, or fake payment confirmation? If you value your money, you should know what to look out for.
Although it is encouraging to see more and more businesses using SMS as a communication platform, it’s becoming easier for scammers to trick consumers as a result.
South Africa has one of the highest mobile penetration rates in the world, so it is no wonder that local businesses are increasingly using SMS as a means of communication with their clients. There are many benefits to SMS, both for the businesses and the consumers they serve, but there is also a darker side to this method of communication.
Scammers will, and do, try anything to get their hands on your money. One method they like to use is 419 scams or advanced-fee fraud as they are also called. The 419-scam originated in Nigeria and is named after the article of the Nigerian Criminal Code that deals with fraud.
On e-mail, these scam letters give space for a lot more information and generally speak of an inheritance (worth billions) that the sender is due. The beneficiary, however, needs your bank account in which to deposit the funds and promises the bank account holder a percentage of the inheritance for use of the bank account. As a show of faith, or in order to release the funds, the sender then asks you to deposit a certain amount into another account first. Once you deposit the money, you obviously never hear from the scammer again. They typically get several tranches of money out of victims. The more the victims give, they more they've already committed, and the more they keep giving, up to a point.
The SMS version works in a very similar way, but the message is generally focused around a cash prize you have won, and asks for a deposit in order to release your winnings. “Congratulations!” is a common word used in these advanced-fee scam SMSes. Another identifier is the use of a non-professional e-mail address. The message will pretend that the prize is from a known brand, such as Nokia, but the e-mail address included in the SMS will be a Yahoo or Hotmail address.
Fraudsters have also taken to using SMSes for phishing attacks. Phishing also has its origin in e-mail, but banks have very successfully managed to decrease these attacks through user education. This is a big reason why fraudsters have now moved to using SMS for phishing, because users do not generally expect it.
People also make the mistake of assuming that SMSes are more secure than e-mail, because it seems like a more personal communication method. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Just like a bank will never ask for your confidential information over e-mail, they should never ask for them by SMS either.
SMS phishing scams are, in a way, even more dangerous than their e-mail counterparts, because it is often a real person that asks you for your details over the phone. For instance, you may receive an SMS (that has been replicated from the official version) alerting you that you have logged on to your Internet banking. The end of the message will read along the lines of “If you have any enquiries, please contact (number)”. Of course you will panic if you are nowhere near your Internet banking service, and immediately phone the number provided. The person who takes the call, however, will unknowingly (comment: I think this means the fraudster doesn’t know he/she is one) be a fraudster who will ask you for your Internet banking details. Once they have these, nothing stops them from accessing your banking online and transferring money wherever they want.
A similar scam fraudsters cotton on to involves fake payment confirmations. Again, an official bank SMS will be replicated, but this time it will be a typical bank SMS payment confirmation. The scammer will purchase goods from you, send a fake payment confirmation and then you will release the goods to them without knowing that the confirmation was a fraud.
These SMSes are sent from individual phones, via international SMS providers or occasionally via a local wireless application service provider (WASP).
What is being done and what you can do
Some WASPs look out for these types of scams and close them down where possible. Some WASPs automatically pick up fraudulent messages through filtering methods and block them.
At network level, Vodacom has been the most proactive in terms of preventing fraudulent messages originating from international networks, although MTN is quickly following suit.
Because of the large financial risks involved, it is worthwhile for network providers to implement solutions that would block fraudulent SMSes. That said, it is important to keep in mind that it is very difficult to track these fraudsters down, because they use stolen identities in the first place. Even if an IP address is traced and the offending computer identified, it would still need to be proven that the alleged scammer used the computer at the time the fraudulent act was carried out.
The most effective thing to do if for consumers to educate themselves as much as possible on these scams and to keep in mind a few basic tips:
-If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is
-Save the phone number of your bank on your mobile, and always phone your bank to verify potentially fraudulent SMSes.
-Check network operator websites for reports on the latest SMS scams
By Dr Pieter Streicher, managing director of BulkSMS.com
Businesses will have to dramatically rethink their marketing and communication strategies once the Protection of Personal Information (PPI) Bill is enacted into law.
Although there is debate around the anticipated date of the enactment of the PPI Bill, it is currently under review and may be passed into law as soon as next month by Parliament after having been approved by Cabinet in August 2009.
The PPI Bill is concerned with the way commercial and non-commercial organisations view, manage and use personal information. Since personal information includes mobile numbers and email addresses, the Bill will impact on the use of electronic corporate communications such as SMS and email.
Currently the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act (2002) allow unsolicited electronic marketing communications to anyone (customers and non-customers alike), provided individuals are given an option to opt-out and, on request, senders disclose where they obtained the contact details of the individual.
Under the new PPI Bill, communications that relate to carrying out the performance of a contract with an existing customer may continue to be sent but further marketing communications to that customer may only be sent if a business provided the customer with an opportunity to opt-out of such further communications at the time when his or her contact information was first obtained. Unless a business can comply with the above, it will only be able to send out direct marketing communications if it obtains the explicit consent of an individual. Furthermore, the Bill stipulates that each marketing communication sent to customers must include opt-out instructions. Such direct marketing communications may only be used for a purpose disclosed at the time the contact information was obtained, e.g. to promote similar products and services sold by the same business.
Communications that are not marketing related
Apart from communications required for the performance of a contract, the new PPI bill allows for a number of other non-marketing electronic communications that do not require explicit consent from individuals and also do not require opt-out instructions. These include communications that are required by law, or communications that are necessary to protect a legitimate interest of the individual or the business. For the last item, individuals may still object to receiving such communications on reasonable grounds.
This means that businesses will need to practise extreme caution when communicating with customers or they could be accused of breaking the law. Recipients of communications, under the new PPI regulations, will be able to demand proof of the origin of where their information was obtained as well as consent for the particular use thereof by a business.
This not only applies to the future collection of information but will need to be applied to all existing personal information that already resides within the organisation. Although most companies should be able to prove where and how the information was obtained, they may now also be required to produce proof of consent for using data they already have and they also need to be able to show how this customer information is being protected against possible theft or leakage.
In addition, companies will need to implement systems and processes to keep track of a customer’s preferences relating to the use of personal information for communications. They will need to honour a customer’s preferred communication channels as well as exclusions or conditions that may have been agreed upon. This means that customer communication profiles will become extremely customised, which may seem like an administrative headache for companies, but it will lead to more effective communications in the long run. The net result is that business communications will become more targeted and therefore more valuable to the recipient.
SMS will score
In the end it is the consumers that stand to receive the most benefits from the PPI Bill. Provided this legislation is enforced, unsolicited messages are going to decrease in all electronic communication channels, including SMS.
From a mobile industry perspective, it is encouraging to see that the new Bill has recognised the benefits of electronic communications for non-marketing purposes, and great care has been taken to remove unnecessary constraints on these communications.
In particular, the Bill prescribes a number of notifications that must be sent to customers as soon as reasonably possible, for instance: notifications of data breaches, product recalls or any notifications protecting a legitimate interest of a customer. SMS messaging is best suited to enable companies to comply with these new requirements as SMS is the quickest way of sending critical notifications to a small or large group of targeted individuals
Businesses need to get their communications act together
In short, although individuals will enjoy increased control over the messages they receive and increased rights to the notifications they should receive, it is up to the business to ensure that these choices and requirements are adhered to as required under the PPI Bill. Failure by a company to comply with a customer’s explicit preferences and notification rights will be a contravention of this new legislation and could result in criminal charges and possible civil action.
BulkSMS.com re-launched its website on the 19th June 2010 to reveal its new, yet still recognisable corporate identity. The website redesign also incorporates a number of changes to ensure an improved experience of the company’s SMS messaging services and provides a better user experience for existing clients as well as new visitors to the BulkSMS.com website.
“We’ve been in operation for ten years and an update in our corporate identity and website was long overdue. We are confident that this new look and feel we will continue to add value to client and visitor interactions with us,” says Dr Pieter Streicher, managing director of BulkSMS.com.
The new branding continues to communicate a clear understanding of the company’s core offering as an aggregator of reliable and easy to use bulk SMS messaging service in the local and international markets. It is also an indication of the evolution of the company from its early years in the fledgling wireless application service provider industry and an affirmation of its current prominence in the industry as a recipient of Vodacom’s coveted Top Achievers Award earlier this year.
“The enhancements to our website allows for further streamlining to our online messaging offering. Thus, improving functionality for our current clients as well as making it easy for prospective clients to find relevant information, test and register to use our SMS messaging services,” says Dr Streicher.
The re-launch of the BulkSMS.com brand and website continues the company’s push to build on its innovative SMS messaging products and a provide world class service.
SMS, the happy accident of mobile technology that turns 17 this year, shows no sign of slowing down. In fact, maintains Pieter Streicher, managing director of BulkSMS.com, if anything SMS is going to accelerate its stellar trajectory thanks to increased business adoption.
Figures released recently by mobile maven Tomi Ahonen show that SMS is the most widely used data application on the planet, with 53% of the total world’s population and 78% of the world’s mobile phone users texting. Even in the USA, which was famously late to the SMS game, more than two-thirds of Americans send text messages. If you look at the number of users, SMS eclipses email by 2.6 times, despite email having been around for 39 years.
And all over the world, people increasingly prefer to send SMS messages than to make voice calls. Back in 2007, JD Powers reported the first ever decrease in number of voice calls had taken place in the UK while the number of text messages continued to grow. In 2009 Lightspeed Research reported that 11% of mobile phone users surveyed in the UK don’t initiate voice calls at all, but do send texts. In the US this number is 13%.
There is a range of reasons for this shift, and Streicher argues that one of them is that in this day and age of information overload, SMS is simply better suited to the way we want to communicate, and be communicated with.
Unlike with landlines in previous generations, we aren’t as compelled to answer a mobile phone and are happy to let a call go to voicemail, especially with call volumes increasing. But voicemail is problematic – we don’t always pick them up immediately, it’s not always convenient to take down phone numbers, and sometimes details get garbled. Indeed, the younger generation often switch off voicemail all together.
Compare this to SMS. It’s a simple matter to quickly skim text messages and it can be done very discreetly. All the details are there and can be used immediately or saved for future reference. A 160 Characters study showed that we respond to text messages in five minutes, while we take up to 24 hours to reply to email.
So it seems to make sense that if you are arranging a meet-up with a friend, you’ll text her, the message will get to her even if she is otherwise occupied, she’ll reply as soon as she is able to, and the message will get back to you whether or not you are available at the same time. SMS makes this type of asynchronous communication incredibly interactive and effective, even though it is not strictly taking place in real time.
Increasingly we are seeing this type of asynchronous communication being adopted by businesses. And it’s not only for marketing messages but for day-to-day business communications to customers. This is demonstrated by BulkSMS’s own traffic reports, which show an increase in single SMS messages from companies rather than bulk send-outs. If you need to reach a client, you could make multiple phone calls until you get hold of them, or you could send a single SMS, to be read as soon as the customer is able to.
More and more people are refusing to answer calls that come up as a “private number” because they have been the victims of too many unsolicited marketing calls. But if your company uses a least cost router that doesn’t display an outgoing number, your legitimate calls may also be ignored. Provided an SMS is sent with clear details in the message identifying the sender, and provided your company has a track record of using messaging responsibly, your message is unlikely to be ignored.
In addition, the stats quoted in this article show very clearly that Jane and Joe Soap prefer to communicate via SMS. So it’s madness to try to force them to communicate with your company in a different way to their choosing, especially if it’s a customer services issue.
And SMS isn’t just playing a role in customer-facing communication. The Mobile Data Association, quoted by Ahonen, reports that UK executives receive as many as 40 work-related text messages daily, and consider SMS to be their most valuable time management tool.
Business communication is going to lag consumer behaviour. But modern managers and businesses see the value and necessity of this type of communication – and this will further drive the already rapid growth of SMS.
Mobile phone handset designers should look to social networking for inspiration to improve the management of communications on phones, says BulkSMS.com’s managing director, Pieter Streicher. He maintains that it is ridiculous that many aspects of the mobile phone user interface haven’t changed in ten years, especially when it comes to contact management and SMS functionality.
A 2009 study by Naomi S. Baron into mobile phone behaviour highlighted the “reachability conundrum” in consumers’ attitudes to always being in touch. One of the aspects of the mobile phone that users liked the most – reachability – was also one of the things they liked the least. People were finding it more and more difficult to separate work life from home, family and leisure time.
To help solve this, designers and manufacturers can learn a thing or two from the way social networking platforms such as Twitter and Facebook allow users to manage their contacts, build lists and ‘unfriend’ or ‘unfollow’ people.
As with Facebook, users should be able to divide contacts into different groups, each with their own settings and preferences, says Streicher. He would like to see people having the ability to quickly and easily block callers on a once-off basis, or permanently. Or be able to discreetly fire off an SMS template to the caller, if for instance, they are in a meeting and unable to take the call.
The creation of groups of contacts, for example, work, family, friends, acquaintances, etc would allow people to separate work and leisure time. They would have the ability to respond to calls differently at different times, so a work call received after hours could be replied to via SMS asking the caller to communicate via SMS. Similarly, social calls could be responded to by SMS during work hours, again requesting the caller rather send an SMS.
Some of this functionality is starting to appear on phones as third party applications, such as Nokia E72 ACM, but none are fully integrated into the contact manager yet.
In addition, the average person sends and receives more SMSs than voice calls. Even users who upgrade to smartphones find that, even though they have heaps of new functionality on their device, they in fact start sending more SMSs because it’s easier to do thanks to QWERTY keyboards and touch screens. Tomi Ahonen estimates there were between 3.6 and 4 billion users of SMS at the end of 2009. But on the whole, handset design is lagging consumer behaviour and doesn’t take the popularity of SMS into account.
Other improvements that can be made:
Many phones, such as Android handsets, only give you the option to delete SMSs one-by-one, or to delete all of them. With message volumes increasing, an option to delete a list of selected messages would be very useful.
Likewise, with increasing SMS volumes, handsets need to give users a way to search their messages. With more businesses using SMS to send customers important information such as reference numbers or account numbers, customers want to be able to quickly and easily find information in messages they have saved.
Delivery reports are currently handled very poorly by most handsets. The reports are stored separately to the messages, and usually only a limited number of reports are kept. These should be integrated with the sent message, allowing the user to quickly and easily see whether a message has been delivered, is pending, or has failed.
While some smartphones do allow you to list SMSs as a threaded conversation, similar to the way instant messaging (IM) software behaves, this capability should be introduced as a matter of course to better reflect how people use messaging.
It doesn’t make sense that handset manufacturers haven’t kept pace with the way consumers behave, says Streicher. Initially this could be explained by SMS not being intended to be a commercial service – it was something that evolved more or less by accident. But subsequently its popularity amongst users, and its growing adoption as a critical business tool, means that SMS and messaging behaviour should really be a critical factor directing handset designers.
The introduction of a small interconnect fee for SMS messaging is essential in an environment where both businesses and consumers rely on SMS messaging for communication purposes.
Currently, there is no SMS interconnect fee agreed between the three local network operators. On an international level, there are still several network operators that are not paying any SMS interconnect fees for terminating messages on local networks.
Individual subscribers can send SMS messages to subscribers on all other local and international networks. These subscribers can also receive SMS messages from phones anywhere in the world. This type of person to person (P2P) traffic is largely symmetrical, and operators are likely to send as many outbound messages as they receive inbound messages. The lack of SMS interconnect fees is not a problem here, and for this reason, when GSM networks started out, networks did not charge each other interconnect fees on SMS at all.
However, SMS messaging as a communications tool for businesses has exploded in recent years. The problem is that business messaging is not symmetrical, and all business messages could potentially originate from a single network. Since networks charge their own Wireless Application Service Providers (WASPs) for messaging, the routing of messages via outside networks (which do not pay a cent) creates the potential for significant revenue loss.
Many businesses have found very innovative and beneficial uses for SMS communication such as transaction notifications, appointment reminders, disaster notifications and progress updates. However, the availability of application to person (A2P) messaging interfaces introduces a significant risk for spam and scams, as message sending can be automated. Subscribers expect their home network to prevent SMS spam and scams. Dealing with spam complaints is a significant cost for operators, and for messages that originate from outside their network, it is more difficult and costly to deal with.
In this environment, the lack of interconnect fees is a double edged sword as it reduces the revenue for a network operator from business messaging and at the same time increases the cost of dealing with abuse.
The argument for local SMS interconnect charges
In South Africa, instead of introducing local SMS interconnect fees, the networks agreed not to compete on A2P business. They essentially allow cross network SMS for their subscribers, but they do not allow cross network SMS for their WASPs. Local WASPs therefore have to contract with all three network operators, Vodacom, MTN and Cell C, to be able to deliver messages to all three, and each network has a monopoly on A2P messaging to their own subscribers.
On one level, this benefits WASPs as they are the only entities that can offer cross network messaging via a single interface. However the lack of competition between operators results in uncompetitive pricing and poor service levels.
The agreement also leaves loopholes wide open. Businesses could bypass home routing by making their messaging appear to be person-to-person messaging by sending from GSM modems.
By introducing a small interconnect charge (50% of bulk charge) for local SMS messaging and by introducing competition between local operators on A2P business, service levels to WASPs will improve, and pricing offered by operators to WASPs will be more competitive. Provided the SMS interconnect fee is significantly lower compared to what consumers pay for messaging (10% of consumer charge), P2P message pricing will remain unaffected, as this traffic is largely symmetrical.
The four UK network operators introduced SMS interconnect fees amongst each other in 2003, and are competing on A2P SMS traffic. It is interesting to note that some UK operators are selling bulk A2P SMS at prices lower than the SMS interconnect rate. In essence, they are subsidising cross network A2P traffic, and making a profit mainly on their on-net A2P traffic.
The argument for international SMS interconnect charges
There are a number of international messaging providers connected to multiple network operators. These providers route messages via the lowest cost routes, which will often be to network operators that pay no interconnect fees.
The only way to prevent revenue loss is for the home network operator to introduce appropriate interconnect fees on SMS with all other international network operators. An international interconnect fee for SMS should be similar than the local bulk charge for A2P messaging.
This will ensure that home routing is the most cost effective, and international messaging providers will have an incentive to be connected to all network operators, or at least one operator in each country. Control over messaging abuse will then be much easier, as the home network will be able to trace all problematic messages via the WASP involved, back to the original sender. In SA, the WASPs involved will have to comply with the WASPA code which governs business messaging, and no messages will be able to bypass the jurisdiction of WASPA.
As there are so many international operators, with some having inadequate control over their infrastructure, the fraudulent use of SMS is also a possibility. Fraudsters with SS7 network access can spoof originating numbers and fake other details in such a way that millions of messages can be sent and then billed to the mobile of a third party. This activity poses a huge financial risk for operators, and requires advanced technical solutions to prevent.
Vodacom has been very pro-active in this regard and has consistently introduced interconnect fees on SMS with operators that are known to terminate SMS messages to its network. Vodacom has also introduced technical measures to block messages where sender -IDs have clearly been manipulated or spoofed. As a result, there has been significantly less (internationally routed) SMS spam on the Vodacom network over the past two years.
There are still large numbers of A2P messages originating internationally, terminating on MTN and Cell C phones locally. In addition, local MTN and Cell C numbers are being spoofed as originating numbers to mask the originating network of messages. This is a major problem for banks, where the spoofing of their SMS originating numbers could be a security risk.
We’ve all heard one of those fisherman’s tales: “The fish was this big, really it was.” Well, if the fisherman in question uses the award-winning Shoreangling.co.za fish measurement service, powered by BulkSMS.com, you can be sure he has the accurate weight for his fish.
Shoreangling.co.za was set up in 2007 by Chris de Vries, an executive board member of SASAA (South African Shore Angling Association) to provide a more fish-friendly way of calculating a fish’s weight at shore angling competitions in South Africa. Previously fish were kept in the shallows or even on dry land until the weighmaster and his 200kg scales arrived to weigh the fish. This placed an unacceptable level of stress on the fish due to it being out of the water and physically weighed.
With the aim of getting the fish back into the water in less than two minutes, the length of the fish is quickly staked out in the sand and the fish is released. Then, armed with the fish’s species, gender and length, the weighmaster consults the Shoreangling.co.za tables to establish the fish’s weight, and also the number of competition points the angler has earned.
The Shoreangling.co.za data is based on more than a decade of extensive research and lists 300 South Africa fish species. When De Vries saw the success of the tables competition level he decided to make the service easily available to recreational anglers as well, especially considering the enormous impact the system had on conserving South Africa’s marine life. Also, more people using the system means more information fed back to Shoreangling.co.za, thus improving the scope and accuracy of the data.
At this point, De Vries roped in Pieter Wilcocks to help with the technical details and the two quickly decided that an SMS service was the obvious answer. Anglers would be able to SMS in the fish’s details, and then receive back the weight, national record weight, size and bag limits, and the closed season for the species. As well as allowing them to return fish to the water, this would also prevent undersize fishing and fishing out of season. And all anglers want to know if they are close to a national record!
“Everyone knows how to SMS, the data would always be up-to-date and available anywhere, and anglers would only need their phones and a tape measure, not heavy scales or paper-based tables,” said De Vries.
Shopping around for an SMS service to make their idea a reality, Wilcocks came across BulkSMS.com service. Its shared shortcode facility made the Shoreangling.co.za SMS service financially viable and because BulkSMS awards a credit for every message received, the reply SMS to the angler costs Shoreangler.co.za nothing.
“Because BulkSMS.com makes its technical details easily available online, we were up and running in no time,” said Wilcocks. “This made interacting with the service very, very easy. It just works. In fact, everything happens pretty much automatically now.”
Wilcockswas also impressed that in the event of something going wrong with the message delivery, BulkSMS.com informed him immediately. “Shoreangling.co.za isn’t a commercial venture, but the anglers pay R3 to send the SMS, so I need to know if a message doesn’t arrive when it should,” said Wilcocks.
“And the BulkSMS.com support staff are responsive, helpful and friendly,” Wilcocks concludes.
The Shoreangling.co.za SMS service now also allows anglers to inquire about the times of tides at their fishing destinations. Purely via word of mouth, the service has almost 2,000 users and has been lauded by anglers, other fishing bodies, conservationists and researchers around the world.
“We loved this simple yet effective application of SMS which is why we awarded it the 2010 BulkSMS Messaging Award,” said Pieter Streicher, managing director of BulkSMS.com. “Shoreangling.co.za supplies people with the information they want, when they want it, in an easy to use way. It makes their lives easier and also makes a considerable impact from a marine conservation point of view.”
Nelson Mandela said: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” While South Africa might still be trying to overcome many of its educational challenges, organisations such as the Siyakhula Education Foundation (SEF) have taken matters into their own hands and are working in disadvantaged areas to raise education levels.
Amongst other initiatives, SEF runs an adult computer literacy programme as well as an academic support programme for learners in grades ten to 12. When Andrew Barrett, the co-ordinator, looked at how best to keep in touch with students, learners and volunteers, SMS was the obvious choice.
“Cell phones have made such in-roads in South Africa and Africa that even the poorest township resident has access to a cell phone, even if they don’t own one personally, and knows how to SMS,” said Barrett. “SMS is a vital tool for sharing information, motivating our learners, and helping them feel part of a community, all of which contributes to the great success rates we are seeing.”
As a non-profit organisation, SEF benefits from BulkSMS.com’s special rates for NPOs. This, combined with the ease-of-use of the mobile messaging provider’s desktop messaging service, ensured Barrett was sold on using BulkSMS.com as a provider when he set the service up.
“One of the major benefits of the service is the affordability of BulkSMS.com. We are an organisation reliant on donations and therefore every cent counts. We can stay in contact with both our core team and our beneficiaries and the cost-effective nature of the service means we can direct our spending where it is needed most,” said Barrett.
Siyakhula, which means “We are growing”, is SEF’s adult education course that provides affordable and accessible computer literacy training for previously disadvantaged people to improve their job prospects. SMS is used to inform students about upcoming course dates, changes to schedules, results, graduation dates and job vacancies.
As a result of the regular SMS communication, students have expressed that they enjoy a sense of belonging and encouragement. In the school’s programme, the attendance records and reminders have helped build a strong work ethic that has resulted in a 95% matric pass rate, with 60% of the learners going on to study further.
Barrett says he has become adept at conveying detailed information within SMS’s 160 character limit. “We’ve got pretty good at using SMS shorthand, which all the kids understand anyway!” he said.
His plans for the SMS service include taking advantage of the two-way messaging and having the learners SMS their matric results to SEF for their records.
SEF’s use of the BulkSMS.com service received special mention in the BulkSMS Messaging Awards earlier this year. “SEF has been particularly clever in pushing SMS’s communication abilities to convey the maximum amount of information quickly, cost-effectively and with great results. This is also an excellent example of how SMS works to communicate effectively with different groups of people,” said Dr. Pieter Streicher, BulkSMS.com managing director.
It’s nice to think that the professionals we turn to, such as doctors and other medical practitioners, lawyers, veterinarians and so on, are on top of their game and up to speed with the latest advances in their fields. Fortunately, thanks to a system called continuing professional development (CPD), you can be sure they are.
Although we have an extensive range of CPD programmes running in South Africa, it was proving increasingly difficult to administer the various schemes: process the test results, record event attendance, capture the points the professionals earned and keep their records up to date.
In many cases, the professional may only remain registered with their professional body if they earn a certain number of points in a year. But if these points aren’t captured or the professional’s records aren’t updated in time, the system falls apart. This is where CPD Solutions (www.cpdsolutions.co.za) saw a great opportunity for the Web and SMS to make the CPD system work.
The company built an online dashboard that each CPD scheme can be customised and used to manage their programmes and membership. Realising it would limit the usefulness of the service to have it only accessible via the web, CPD Solutions signed up BulkSMS.com to add an SMS component to the service.
Adding an SMS channel allowed busy professionals to log attendance at off-site events, complete the quizzes after hours and check their CPD points anytime, wherever they are.
In addition the SMS service allows the professionals to:
-Sign up for the service even if they don’t have Internet access
-Log more than one CPD qualifying activity per SMS
-Receive immediate feedback on their submission: whether the points have been logged successfully; if they were previously logged via another channel; if the time limit for registering an activity has expired; or if the unique code used is invalid.
-Change their pin code or request a reminder
-Change their registered cell phone number
So, for instance, a professional body can publish a CPD article in its newsletter with a multiple-choice test. The professional can then send an SMS with the test's identifier and their sequence of answers to the standard-rated short code. For example: test1 abcde abcde. The system then decodes the SMS, scores the test and issues the CPD points to the individual.
Riaan Bezuidenhout, the programmer at CPD Solutions who developed the system, said he selected BulkSMS.com as their SMS partner because it offered the functionality he needed to make CPS Solutions work. Each incoming SMS is unique and is processed and replied to individually. In addition, the message traffic flow is pretty lumpy and can spike hugely during an event attended by many professionals.
Bezuidenhout uses the HTTP API to receive the information that is then passed on to his system and processed. He then sends the replies via the SMTP API.
In addition, CPD Solutions charges its customers a flat fee for the web service, plus a charge for each user that registers. BulkSMS.com’s reasonable costs and per message billing make this model workable for Bezuidenhout.
“But, most important is that the system just works seamlessly,” said Bezuidenhout. Once it was set up I haven’t needed to touch it, it just runs smoothly in the background. In addition, a large number of the professionals prefer the SMS interface to the Web-based one because it is so simple and quick to use.”
“This is a great example of how you can extend the capabilities and convenience of the Web via a simple SMS feature,” said Pieter Streicher, managing director of BulkSMS.com. “Whether thanks to circumstance or preference, so many South Africans opt for the SMS channel above any other.”
Bezuidenhout hopes to see the service gain popularity amongst the nursing profession – giving nurses the convenience of logging CPD points even if they are rarely in the office. He also has plans for a school service that logs and reports teacher attendance via SMS first thing every morning.
Around the world, people are increasingly conversing using SMS, and making fewer and fewer voice calls, particularly in the youth market. A recent Washington Post article looks at how the “texting generation doesn’t share boomers’ taste for talk”. Increasingly consumers are having interactive and effective asynchronous conversations, even though they are not in real time, via SMS.
So why, wonders Dr. Pieter Streicher, managing director of BulkSMS.com, are so few companies really engaging with their customers via this channel. He’d argue that still too often the mobile component of a marketing campaign will be tacked on at the end, rather than being carefully considered during the design process, and so the immense power of mobile marketing is being stunted.
We know there is a rapid shift happening in how brands interact with consumers: from one-way, top-down communication, to an ongoing conversation between the consumer and the brand. Instead of broadcasting messages, brands need to focus on listening to consumers. By giving consumers a voice, brands have the ability to adapt their messages and products to give their customers what they really want.
So it’s clear, as a brand you need to join the conversation with your customers who are talking to each other via 160 characters. But so many mobile marketing campaigns are hinged on a once-off response from the consumer, with very little thought given to how to continue engaging with them.
Once a trusted personal relationship has been developed with an audience, the brand is in a powerful position to start soliciting feedback from clients on a range of topics, including: their experience of the service provided, their suggestions on improving the product or client recommendations on how to use the product. Input can be responded to directly or published online and shared with the brand’s wider community. Loyal brand ambassadors can be identified and rewarded, by seeing their ideas implemented or via gifts or other benefits.
So for instance, a food-related brand could also offer a series of free recipes via text instead of simply running a “text-to-win” style competition. This ongoing engagement gives the consumer a compelling reason to opt into the communication, and allows the brand to build a trusted relationship with the consumer, and then benefit from feedback and input from a loyal customer base. (If anyone thinks you can’t deliver recipes in 160 characters or fewer, take a look at http://twitter.com/cookbook).
Likewise a sporting brand might offer customers a free weather service via text for customers on the go, and a financial services company could provide free market information in real time.
Typically an SMS engagement needs to be triggered via another channel, for instance a TV ad, display ad or a billboard. This is why it is so important that the mobile marketing component be considered at the outset of a campaign, while it is being designed, in order to ensure this ongoing engagement. In fact, Streicher maintains that mobile marketing is the key to elevating a marketing activity from an isolated campaign to an ongoing conversation with customers and potential customers, via a medium of their choice.
Other benefits of the mobile phone as a marketing channel are that these devices have become such an essential part of many people’s lives and even part of their identity (think of the popularity of customised ringtones and logos). Studies show that people would rather forget their wallet at home than their mobile phone. In addition, the cost attached to sending an SMS protects the channel from the deluge of spam that we experience via email.
The flipside to these benefits and the trust you can build up via this personal device, is the potential to do your brand massive damage if you get it wrong. Make sure you adhere to legislation and best practice around opting in and out of databases. Tell your customers what they are signing up for and then deliver on that promise.
The message is clear for brand owners: your customers want a conversation via a medium of their choice. Make sure your marketing team or agency has the skills, experience and understanding of the mobile space to design this engagement from the outset. It is the businesses that strike up the best conversations that are going to be the most successful in growing their customer base.
The fall-out from the recent ban of bulk SMS in India serves as a dramatic reminder about just how entrenched those 160 characters have become in the daily lives of both people and businesses the world over.
When the Indian government banned application to person SMS messaging, people immediately stopped receiving notifications that transactions had taken place on their bank accounts. Railway ticket confirmations and schedule changes simply weren’t delivered. Equity traders were cut off from the information lifeline that is their business. Companies needed to rely on other, less immediate and less mobile, channels of communication to be alerted to problems on their servers.
The ban was put in place in advance of a ruling in the controversial Ayodhya land dispute. In 1992 a Hindu group destroyed the 16th century Babri Mosque, believing it was built on the birthplace of Hindu god, Ram. This led to violent clashes between Muslims and Hindus. An Indian court is set to rule imminently on whether plans to build a Hindu temple on the site can go ahead, and the Indian government, fearing further violence, banned bulk SMSs in the country in an attempt to cut communication between religious extremists on both sides who may want to provoke a violent protest.
Similarly, closer to home, the Mozambican government shut down SMS for a period during the recent food riots in that country, in an attempt to muzzle the public which were coordinating the violent demonstrations using SMS.
After lobbying from the network operators and the Indian Reserve Bank, the Indian Department of Telecom (DoT) later relaxed the ban to exclude transaction messages and network performance notifiers sent directly by the operators. The network operators have been warned they will be responsible for any content sent over their network and that the SMS ban still applies to messages sent via third party aggregators, or WASPs (wireless application service providers).
This decision is problematic for a number of reasons. Firstly, because many transaction-based messages are sent via aggregators, and it’s impossible to distinguish between these messages and others. The new ruling hasn’t done much to alleviate the situation.
In addition, the network operators are unhappy that they will be responsible for the content of messages that they didn’t originate and are merely delivering on behalf of the sender. Also, media reports say the operators stand to lose up to Rs 10 crore ($2.2 million) a week from lost revenue because the aggregators will not be buying bulk SMS capacity from them.
And finally, this doesn’t even seem to be an effective way to prevent the public from communicating and coordinating civil unrest, as person to person SMS is still available.
At the moment, the verdict on the court case has been postponed and it’s unclear for how long the bulk SMS ban will be in place. In the meantime Indian businesses are losing money and the Indian people are at risk of fraud. (You can be sure criminals are rubbing their hands together in glee at this opportunity to bypass one of the most effective banking security measures: SMS notifications.)
If indeed we needed a reminder about how entrenched SMS is in our daily lives, this is certainly it. If something similar had happened in South Africa, online banking would be effectively crippled. Without one-time passwords (OTP) sent via SMS we would be unable to add or pay recipients. We wouldn’t know if our accounts were being accessed without authorisation, or if our credit cards had been cloned or stolen and then used by criminals. Medical, security and educational initiatives that rely on SMS as being the best way to reach their communities would be hamstrung. Not to mention the less “serious” but still useful services we have come to rely on, from weather reports on the go, to reminders of doctors’ appointments.
It’s also clear to what extent SMS plays a role in the democratisation of information. With a straightforward SMS-enabled cell phone, citizens can publish information to large groups, and even the world, at the press of a button. We’ve seen the impact of social media in undermining governments’ attempts to control or hide information – this is becoming an increasingly difficult thing for governments to do without serious consequences. Take a look at a service such as Ushahidi.com, which crowd sources crisis information from people on the ground via SMS, email and the Web, to form detailed pictures of what is going on in crisis situations ranging from political unrest to natural disasters.
While the Indian government’s intentions behind the ban were well meaning, this somewhat kneejerk response may very well do more damage than good. But it certainly does highlight the extent to which SMS has become part of our society’s DNA.
SMS language or ‘textspeak’ is taking a lot of flack for the general misuse of the English language today – both in spelling and grammar. But is it all negative?
People are too quick to blame SMS technology for a rise in incorrect spelling and grammar use, and are failing to see the opportunities that can come from it.
Parents and teachers have been blaming cellphones and SMSes for a ‘degradation in the English language’ for years now, and they feel this technology is standing in the way of children learning proper English.
What many parents and teachers don’t take cognisance of, however, is that ‘textspeak’ serves a very definite purpose within the context of which it is used and is rarely due to laziness, rebellion, or habit. The limited character space offered by a single SMS has brought about a need for acronyms and clever wordplay. The aim of the language is to fit as much information as possible into the restricted space that a single SMS allows for. An SMS constitutes the use of symbolic expression which is forced by the limitations of technology.
SMS language is generally only used when communicating with someone that the sender is close to. This is confirmed by the fact that 65% of all abbreviations in ‘textspeak’ is used to identify people, such as ‘u’, ‘bf’, and ‘ppl’. A further 11% is used to identify possessive pronouns such as ‘ur’. Ten percent is reserved for amusement or expressions, such as ‘lol’ and ‘haha’, further confirming that the context here is very obviously friendly, intimate and casual communication.
Just as children understand the difference between languages, so too do they recognise that certain writing styles are appropriate in their intended contexts only. Older children especially have no problems differentiating the writing style and spelling needed for formalised documents (such as school work) from the much more intimate and informal SMS language.
According to a study done by Kristy (née Freudenberg) Winzker as part of her Master of Philosophy thesis at the University of Stellenbosch entitled ‘Investigating the impact of SMS speak on the written work of English first language and English second language high-school learners’ (March 2009), although Grade 11 learners reported using SMS more frequently than Grade 8 learners, they used significantly less SMS language elements in their written work. The study covered the effect of ‘textspeak’ on written work in terms of spelling errors, lack of punctuation, over-punctuation, leaving out function words, use of abbreviations and acronyms, use of emoticons, rebus writing, shortening of words, use of slang, and use of colloquialisms.
If children are letting this kind of language creep into their school work, they only need be told it is not tolerated and it will not stand in the way of their learning process. Only in situations where ‘textspeak’ is tolerated in a formal context, or in instances where English is not a person’s first language, can this become a real problem.
There have also been instances in the workplace (especially in use over e-mail) where SMS slang is used, but as soon as management indicates that it is not acceptable in a business setting, the ‘textspeak’ stops.
Generally, business avoids any acronyms or text slang when sending out SMSes to their clients or subscribers. They might compromise on punctuation to optimise SMS space, but the spelling is generally perfect. Words are not often abbreviated unless the acronym is known by the receiver, such as in share prices. In general, though, companies need to be very wary of ambiguity or miscommunication between themselves and the client.
The use of SMS as a communication channel provides a means for anyone to communicate. As ‘elitist’ as SMS language can be, the SMS channel itself does not keep anyone out of the loop. It enables the hearing impaired to communicate in ways that were not previously open to them.
Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, also initially intended to develop a hearing device for the hearing impaired. Both his wife and mother were hearing impaired. Ironically, the invention of the telephone only contributed to shutting out the deaf from communicating even more.
It has only been since the design of the mobile phone – and more importantly the SMS – that the hearing impaired can now communicate with both hearing and hearing impaired individuals through a telephonic device.
The reality is that SMS language is here to stay, like it or not. As long as there is a need for the SMS, there will be a need for ‘texting’.
The answer lies in teaching children from an early age to use language correctly and in the right context. The solution is education.
While your cell phone has access to the same Internet that your PC has access to, it also carries a link to your phone bill and this combination affords new billing mechanisms to content providers. This change can catch consumers unaware and could result in unexpected cell phone charges.
With more and more South Africans accessing the Internet from their cell phones, both the opportunities and the risks increase. According to a recent World Wide Worx study, at the start of 2010, 3.36 million South Africans were accessing the Internet via mobile web browsers, and 9 million via mobile applications. This compares with around 5 million PC-based Internet users in South Africa at the beginning of the year.
Consider purchasing an item on the Internet from your PC. As a consumer you are never in any doubt that a transaction has taken place. Typically you’ve taken out your credit card and typed in your details. Or you have logged into PayPal or another payment gateway. You’ve agreed to terms and conditions before being able to proceed. You’ve double-checked the details before confirming the transaction, and then you have received an invoice via email for your records. At the end of the month, your credit card statement will reflect the items purchased. Any unauthorised charge can easily be reversed.
Buying something on the Internet from your mobile can be as easy as clicking on a link.Your mobile operator knows who you are, and has access to your money via your phone bill. No entering credit card details or contact details. No third party gateways. In fact, the mobile makes buying something on the Internet from your PC look pretty cumbersome. But, this ease of use unfortunately can also result in customers signing up for services they didn’t intend to, whether through lack of awareness or simply not paying attention to what they click on.
For the moment at least, the ball is in the consumer’s court to flag incorrect charges and report them to the industry regulator WASPA (the Wireless Applications Service Providers’ Association). WASPA has set out requirements for how WASPs charge consumers for services with some pretty hefty penalties for contravention, and no WASPs are able to charge for services without being a member of WASPA. But there is simply no mechanism for identifying fraudulent billing, apart from customer complaints about incorrect charges on their cell phone account.
All too often, however, consumers have forgotten they have signed up for something, or simply haven’t realised they were carrying out a transaction. These erroneous complaints can muddy the waters in an already imperfect situation and prevent real fraud from being picked up.When real fraud occurs, the content downloaded is often questionable itself, and consumers are then reluctant to complain.
As mentioned, WASPA has put in place regulations around how WASPs charge for services in an attempt to mitigate the risk of someone spending money online unintentionally.A further mechanism already in place is that mobile network operators hold back on payments to third parties for two months.
According to the WASPA regulations for once-off purchases of R10 or more the service provider must obtain specific confirmation from the customer and keep a record of the confirmation. The details of what constitutes specific confirmation are not spelled out, however.
If the ad hoc purchase is valued at less than R10 the price must be clearly indicated as part of, or adjacent to, the link or option that will initiate the transaction.
When it comes to subscription services, the regulations are a bit tighter. A second confirmation page must include the name of the service, clearly state that it’s a subscription service, the price of the service and how often the subscriber will be billed, and a customer support number. No marketing or other content may be included that might distract the consumer from the pertinent facts.
The reality is though that this situation is still fraught with loopholes as it relies too heavily on consumer complaints to red flag suspicious activity, at which point it becomes the consumer’s word against the WASP’s. Fortunately for cell phone users, however, a change in the way third parties can bill customers should improve the situation. Currently, WASPs link directly into the cell phone network operator’s billing system receives the cell phone numbers of visitors to their sites and handle all the transaction details themselves. This means the network operator will be unaware of whether a WASP complies with the regulations until a customer complaint alerts them to questionable activity, at which point they can cut off the WASP.
This will change in the next few months, however, when the network operators themselves take responsibility for handling the subscription process on behalf of the WASP, thus ensuring all subscription transactions are compliant with the regulations and having the logs to irrefutably prove that a consumer signed up for a service.
This is good news as the opportunities for mobile billing are significant for both content providers and consumers, but it will only be realised if trust in the mechanism is improved. Until then, however, it is worth consumers following these guidelines:
1.Think before you click – spending money on a cell phone is not the same as on a PC.
2.Parents should realise that the cell phones their children use not only have access to the entire Internet, warts and all, but also allow their children to spend money at the click of a button. Parents need to educate their children to be financially savvy on their cell phones.
3.Keep confirmation messages.
4.Check your bill or prepaid balances carefully.
5.Complain to WASPA (www.waspa.org.za) if you do notice anything untoward. The more people who complain, the stronger the case against suppliers who contravene industry regulations.
According to Clay Shirky, renowned digital media commentator, “communication tools don’t become socially interesting until they become technologically boring.” Now while I’ll never consider SMS boring, I’d argue that SMS has become so entrenched in our day-to-day lives that it meets this criterion, and has not only become socially interesting, but is impacting our society in significant ways.
“The moment we are living through is seeing the largest increase in expressive capability in human history” says Shirky. SMS is definitely a critical role player in this increase in communication and expression, from dating services, to weather reports to fighting crime or reporting on political unrest.
Take, for instance, Ushahidi, a crowd-sourcing platform developed to track Kenyan election violence in 2008. Since then it has been used as far afield as the USA, Haiti, India and Chile to report on natural disasters, political unrest, the spread of diseases, wildlife conservation and corporate behaviour. One of the key channels Ushahidi uses to gather information from people on the ground is SMS. This is no surprise as almost everywhere you go in the world people have access to a mobile phone and the ability to send an SMS.
Figures released earlier this year by mobile maven TomiAhonen show that 53% of the world’s population and 78% of the world’s mobile phone users send and receive SMSs. If you look at the overall number of users, SMS eclipses email by 2.6 times, despite email having been around for 39 years, and SMS for only 17.
On an individual level, SMS is being used in clever ways to literally revolutionise communication. BulkSMS.com customer, Abrie van Wyk suffers from cerebral palsy and so has difficulty communicating with family, friends and the customers of his small business. But using BulkSMS’s computer-to-phone SMS service, Van Wyk can successfully communicate both socially and commercially. “A new world opened for me,” he said.
Likewise SMS is breaking down communication barriers for deaf people around the world, for both deaf and hearing people. SMS means that deaf and hearing people can speak the same ‘language’; and also that deaf people can build those all-important ‘weak’ connections because SMS expands their communication from face-to-face engagements only.
Similarly farmers in rural Kenya are no longer subject to the whims of market prices thanks to SMS. Now they can check the price they will receive for their stock via SMS before leaving home, they can choose which market is paying more for their specific produce. And, so is more attractive for them, rather than turning up at a market and being forced to accept the prices, favourable or not. This is a very vivid example of how the spreading of information via SMS has shifted the balance of power in favour of a previously enormously economically disadvantaged group of people.
Shirky’s primary point is that “it is not when the shiny new tools show up that their uses start permeating society, it is when everyone takes them for granted.” This is certainly true for SMS if you look at its rapid adoption in Africa and other third world regions thanks to the lack or scarcity of alternative communication channels such as fixed lines and email. SMS is easy to use, readily available, and relatively inexpensive.
Not surprising then that many grass root innovations, clever ideas that the phone manufacturers almost certainly never dreamt of, take place in Africa. From SMS banking notifications launched by FNB in 2002, to SMS reminders to take anti-retrovirals and other vital medication, to SMS-enabled home security systems.
As these trends show, in a world of shiny new technological tools the familiar workhorse, SMS, is by far the technology that has most become part of our society and is paying its way in terms of the development of social capital in enabling people to express themselves or access information that allows them to make meaningful economic or life choices.
The high-profile Glenn Agliotti case has once again highlighted the role cell phones and SMS unsurprisingly play in the law. Unsurprisingly, because cell phones are such an essential part of our everyday lives, and track just about all of our movements and communications.
In the Agliotti case, Clinton Nassif’s cell phone records were subpoenaed by the court from Vodacom and the times of calls and messages were used to show that the former security consultant had lied in previous testimony about his communication with Agliotti. Later, in the same trial, MTN was wrapped over the knuckles for not waiting to receive a Section 205 subpoena before releasing Agliotti’s cell phone records.
Pieter Streicher, managing director of BulkSMS.com, takes a look at SMS’s role in preventing crime, enforcing the law and its legal standing.
From a crime prevention point of view, SMS is immensely powerful thanks to its ability to allow anonymous tip-offs. The Primedia Crime Line service, which was launched in June 2007 and offers an SMS tip-off line, has resulted in 941 arrests, and the recovery of more than R35.7 million’s worth of stolen property, drugs and counterfeit goods.
SMS also has the capacity to quickly and easily reach a large number of people on the move and is used effectively by the police force to co-ordinate and receive information from mobile volunteers, and also by neighbourhood watch schemes.
When it comes to law enforcement, SMS’s are considered to be written documents according to the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act (ECT) and are admissible as evidence in both a criminal and civil court case. Just like an ordinary document would be assessed by the court to determine its integrity and evidential weight – for instance an original copy of a document with signatures would count more than a poor photocopy – SMS’s are assessed based on their electronic details including when they were created, sent, modified or delivered.
As with any other evidence, and as seen in the Agliotti trial, a subpoena is needed to access an individual’s cell phone records. The regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-related Information Act (more popularly known as RICA) has been put in to place specifically to make it easier to connect a cell phone account with a specific individual.
From a practical point of view, SMS can also be very helpful in making the courts run smoothly. Simply by texting a witness the details of their court appearance and any delays can make the courts run more efficiently. Likewise lawyers can use SMS to keep their clients up to date with lengthy legal processes.
SMS’s legal standing
As mentioned above, SMS’s are legally equivalent to written documents and so written contracts may be legally concluded via an SMS. Saved SMS’s are also adequate proof that a contract has been entered into. SMS’s can therefore be immensely useful in confirming and keeping a record of verbal agreements.
Although spoofing - where a message appears to come from someone it doesn’t - is possible, by comparing the network logs with the billing logs, courts can establish whether or not a message was sent from a specific cell phone account.
In light of the fact that SMS’s can serve as written contracts, companies need to consider how they archive the SMS’s their employees send. King III specifically requires company directors to manage foreseeable risks arising from the use of information and communications technologies. In addition, other legislation specifies that certain records be archived for a minimum amount of time. Companies should consider using a desktop SMS application that backs-up sent and received SMS’s rather than having their employees use their handsets, in order to comply with the law.
But, company cell phones fall into the same category as any other company electronic equipment. As long as the employer can show they have informed the employee about the company policy with regards to monitoring electronic communications, and that the employee has accepted, the employer may access employee communications.
The cell phone’s inherent features make it a useful tool in tracking communications allowing it to aid in law enforcement and crime prevention. An SMS may only be 160 characters long, but legally it has the same clout as far lengthier communications and should be handled accordingly.