Combating menace of unsolicited text messages

Unwanted text messages received by telephone users in Nigeria, have become a nuisance to many, with stakeholders calling for a permanent measure to checkmate the trend, reports KUNLE AZEEZ.

Short Messaging Services, SMSs, are valuable means of communications from one phone user to another, aside the usual voice and data services available to phone users to achieve their communication objectives. Often, the sender and the receiver have a mutual knowledge of the need for such messages.

However, when such messages are delivered to a phone user on a continuous basis, especially without the receiver’s consent, it becomes mobile spamming or what some industry experts tag spam SMS. Known as unwanted SMS in Nigeria, telephone users get these unsolicited texts which flood their phone SMS inbox, constituting a nuisance. “I hate such text messages.

They just deliver it to you without requesting for it. When I get them, especially at a time I’m expecting an important SMS from someone, it irritates me and I wonder why mobile networks have continued to do this unabated,” said a telecoms subscriber, Adebayo Rasaq. Rasaq, who decried the development, said many subscribers didn’t even know the initiators of such messages received through their mobile networks.

Also expressing repugnance towards unsolicited text messages, a Lagos Island- based business woman, Mrs. Gloria Ubah, complained that the messages become more annoying when they continuously get delivered to a subscriber’s phone at odd times, citing night hours as such period. “The network operators just like disturbing. The annoying part of the whole thing is that these messages also come in when you are sleeping at nights.

It appears the authority is not regulating this aspect of our sector very well,” she added. The continuous sending of the spam messages without the permission of the phone user and without giving the receiver an opportunity to opt out, which is applicable to most of the messages, as gathered, is another frustrating experience for subscribers. According to a phone user, Gbenga Arowora, “I hate when you send a message to indicate if you want to start receiving messages on particular phenom-enon, maybe inspirational, quotes, news updates or sport updates and without indicating ‘Yes’, you keep getting the messages.

Unfortunately, majority of them will not send you the code to opt out; only few does. So, this is frustrating.” Also condemning the trend, a brand communication expert, Mr. Rarsack Olaegge, argued that the operators are not ready to discourage spam text messages because they enjoy commercial gains from allowing their networks to be used by Value Added Service, VAS, operators or other institutions of individuals to send such unsolicited messages. He “There is no way an SMS will come to me without my network knowing about it. Network operators are the gate keepers.

They have to take the responsibility. There is no way a story will get published in a newspaper without the editor’s knowing about. “So, what I think is fuelling this SMS spamming menace is the commercial gains operators derive from such trade, which, in turn and quite unfortunately, constitute a nuisance to the reci9nvf phone users.

“The operators cannot feign ignorance of spam SMS because it is a commercial decision to allow their platforms to be used for sending such unsolicited messages. They make money from it. Unfortunately, the text messages are not targeted and as such, it annoys you as a subscriber if you keep getting the messages you have not requested for.

The onus lies on the regulator to help checkmate this trend.” Commenting on the development, the President of the National Association of Telecommunication Subscribers, NATCOMS, Chief Adeolu Ogunbanjo, urged telecommunications regulator to discourage sending of unsolicited messages by operators, especially those sent for lottery activities. Ogunbajo, while arguing that sending of unsolicited messages to subscribers was an encroachment into their privacies, adding that an end to the trend would bring sanity, also maintains that “This illegal practice is becoming frequent and unbearable as subscribers have been taken for a ride.” He has therefore urged that spam MSM promoters to use the mass media instead of using telecommunication networks for their commercial-oriented practice.

Meanwhile, the NCC, had, in the past, taken some enforcement actions by sanctioning the erring operators. However, following increased consumer complaints regarding unsolicited SMS from VAS providers marketing their various services within the Nigerian telecoms space, the Commission has developed a database of all VAS providers together with the Short-Codes used by them. This, the commission says, is strategy to ensure direct engagement and monitoring of the activities of each licensed VAS provider.

The major VAS providers fingered as responsible for sending these unsolicited messages, acoording to the NCC, include MTN Nigeria, Globacom Nigeria, Upstream Limited, Adnol Multimedia Limited, Fun Mobile, Terragon Limited, Rancard Mobility, Mtech Limited, Elseji, Starfish Limited, Next Generation Tele Solutions, One Communications Limited, Cloud and Mobilexcetera. “Warning letters have been sent to all VAS providers directing that all unsolicited messages or telemarketing activities within the networks could at best be done between the hours of 8am – 8pm in line with the existing guidelines.

This is necessary to ensure good consumer quality experience in the industry,” the commission said.

Three VAS providers – Upstream Limited, Next Generation Tele Solutions and One Communications Limited – were, however, identified as operating illegally without necessary regulatory authorisation; The commission said it had commenced enforcement process on the three identified illegal VAS operators in line with Section 31 (1) of the Nigerian Communications Act (NCA) 2003 and the Enforcement Processes Regulations 2005. Ogunbanjo also urged lottery promoters to use the mass media instead of using telecommunication networks.

National Mirror findings showed that in other countries, regulations regarding spam text messages are keenly enforced while promoters have been dealt with through heavy sanctions, both for the networks which is used as gateway to send the messages and the Short-Code licensee. Such hard measure, subscribers, argue should also be adopted by the Nigerian telecom regulator to show its seriousness to fighting the unsolicited SMS menace, rather than just restrict the time such messages should be broadcast by their promotes.

“NCC has shown us that it is ready to fight this mobile spamming yet and we don’t know the reason for this. If it does, it should completely rule out unsolicited SMS, unless the phone user has given his or her conset to be receiving such SMS. We hope the commission will again look into permanent solution to this problem,” a phone dealer at the Ikeja Computer Village market, Mr. Yinka Badmus, insisted.

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