Mobile spam on the rise

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Unwanted text messages are becoming a growing nuisance for UK consumers, who are often confused about how they received such messages.

Complaints to regulators have soared over the last year as advertisers directly target mobile phone users.

Increasingly, such unsolicited texts dupe people into phoning premium rate numbers. One method is to send a romantic message from an mystery admirer.

Premium rate calls watchdog Icstis has received more than 150 complaints in the past nine months about unsolicited messages.

The Advertising Standards Authority has also seen a rise in problems and has upheld six complaints about text message promotions this year, compared with none the previous year.

“It is an issue we have been concerned about for quite a while,” said a spokesman for the Consumers’ Association.

“Increasingly people are giving out their mobile phone numbers and there doesn’t seem to be sufficient control on where those numbers end up. People are also confused about who to complain to,” he said.

For marketers, SMS can prove an invaluable route to customers. Research firm Forrester predicts that 56% of firms will use text messaging as a marketing tool by 2003. But unwary mobile users who reply to a suprise message like this one – “I’ve always liked U. It’s time to come clean” – could find themselves paying 165 pence or more.

SMS marketing company FlyTXT takes the view that if certain key rules are adhered to it can be beneficial to both consumers and firms.

“Text messaging is a double-edged sword. It can ruin your brand if you misuse it or be deadly effective in creating customer loyalty if used correctly,” Director of Development at FlyTXT Pamir Gelenbe said.

Responsible SMS marketing must involve a two-way relationship between advertiser and customer, ensuring that all recipients have opted-in to receive messages and allowing them to opt-out at any time, said Mr Gelenbe. He disagrees that mobile spam is a huge problem.

“In reality, there isn’t a lot of spam over the air because marketers have to pay between 5p and 10p for each message and unless you get a decent response rate you would go bankrupt,” he said.

In Japan, where recipients rather than senders are charged for messages, spam is a much bigger problem with nine out of every 10 messages on the DoCoMo network estimated to be spam.

Orange urges users of its network to contact its customer service lines if an unsolicited text message is received. “If the message has been generated using a number on the Orange UK network we can bar the subscription or block the ability to send text messages from that number,” reads a statement from the company.

If the text message has been generated using a number on another network, Orange can either bar the sender number from sending SMS to Orange customers or block the message centre concerned. Spam generated overseas is harder to control but Orange says it is “taking measures” to deal with it and is also working on software that would block spam.

At a government level the European Union has passed a law forcing marketers to get explicit permission from customers before sending e-mails or text messages for advertising purposes. The law should be adopted in member states, including the UK, by the summer of next year.

Action needs to be taken as soon as possible, said the spokesman for the Consumers’ Association, himself a victim of airwave spammers. “Tighter regulation is necessary so that users can regain control over what they get on their phones,” he said.

Broadband channel to boost net take-up

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An independent broadband channel envisaged as an internet version of the Channel 4 television station should be set up if the UK is to gain and retain broadband users.

It is among recommendations in a government report to drive take-up of high-speed internet services.

The report acknowledges that faster speeds and lower prices will not in themselves be enough to secure a truly broadband Britain.

While lower prices have been vital in kick-starting broadband take-up to its current levels of around 600,000, compelling content will drive the next wave of broadband services according to the study, commissioned by the Department of Trade and Industry.

The report recommends a major government investment of between £5m and £10m to set up an independent organisation to bring together broadband content and applications.

“The organisation would commission from the UK content development sector and work with internet service providers, portals, mobile platforms and TV companies to meet their content demands where appropriate,” reads the report.

“In short, the Broadband Channel would represent a Channel 4 for the broadband age,” it goes on.

Without such a channel, the UK risked having an undeveloped content market, said the report.

It warned providers would just offer subscription niche services such as gaming, adult content, gambling and music from which they can make money.

“There is a real risk that as mass market users adopt broadband they will find only a set of relatively niche offerings,” reads the report.

They may well choose not to remain broadband users.”

Among other recommendations is the creation of a tourism portal with video and sound clips and interactive virtual visitor centres.

The report also suggests the government set up channels for transactional e-government services in each region, accessible in shopping centres, football grounds and railway stations.

The government has broadly welcomed the recommendations.

“For many, speed alone is not enough to justify upgrading to broadband,” said e-Minister Stephen Timms.

“People need to be able to do more than play games and swap music files to convince them of the benefits of broadband,” he said.

The findings come as figures from internet research group NetValue show that while uptake of broadband services in the UK has doubled in the past six months it still trails most of its European neighbours.

 

Digital TV take-up rises

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Four out of 10 households in the UK had digital television before the collapse of ITV Digital, according to research published on Tuesday.

A year ago the figure was 30% of homes, the survey conducted by MORI and released by Broadcasting Minister Kim Howells revealed.

The biggest attraction of digital TV was the choice of programming, followed by improvements in picture and sound quality.

However, the public remained concerned about the cost and “hidden” extras such as subscriptions and other charges.

The effect of the collapse of ITV Digital was not covered in the survey.

The aim of this research was to “gain a better understanding of people’s perceptions of digital TV, their awareness of the issues and an insight into people’s future intentions”.

Mr Howells, speaking at a radio festival in Cambridge, said: “It is very clear that more people are aware of the benefits of digital TV and are making the switch themselves.

“This is very encouraging. But what is apparent is that there is more work to be done to demystify digital television’s benefits to those unsure about making the move.”

The government is formulating a digital action planning process together with the industry.

The government has said it wants to shut down analogue television signals by 2010 – although some in the industry believe that target to be unrealistic – provided that enough people in the country had access to digital TV.

But the survey revealed that only 42% of people without digital television at the moment will switch to the new technology in six to 10 years.

If that figure proved accurate, it would leave the number of people without digital TV below the level needed to warrant switching off analogue signals.

According to the survey, 71% of people know about digital television and consider it to be better than analogue.