Spam Moves to Cell Phones

Discussion
May 12, 2008

By Tom Ryan

Americans are expected to receive an estimated 1.5 billion unsolicited text messages on their cell phones in 2008, according to San Francisco’s Ferris Research, which tracks mobile messaging trends. That’s nearly double the amount received in 2006.

That’s still a small percentage of the estimated 48 billion text messages that U.S. consumers sent and received in December alone, according to The New York Times. But industry executives, consumer groups and security experts are concerned that unwanted text messages will become an even worse problem than computer spam.

Cell phone spam is particularly annoying to its recipients because it is more
invasive – announcing itself with a beep. Cell phones have also become one
of consumers’ most personal technological devices. Finally, consumers are charged
as much as 20 cents for each incoming spam message.

Communications companies claim they are not interested in spam as a profit center, but are rather looking to exploit the potential of customized advertising on mobile phones. Indeed, spam messages threaten to make their customers hostile toward all commercial messages.

The carriers are trying to head off the problem before consumers revolt. Steps include regularly adjusting spam filters, and aggressively suing spammers. But just like fighting computer spam, it seems to be an uphill battle.

In March, Anthony Melone, Verizon Wireless’s chief technology officer, told the Times that Verizon began getting complaints from customers in the Northeast and Midwest about a wave of unsolicited text messages flooding its network. Mr. Melone said Verizon technicians tracked down the source and found the messages were coming from someone using e-mail accounts at msn.com.

It took a day to stop the unwanted messages because the spammers kept changing their e-mail addresses and the websites they were promoting. By then, nearly five million messages had made it past Verizon’s anti-spam filters, resulting in complaints and demands for refunds from customers, Mr. Melone said.

A whole separate issue will be the possible arrival of viruses on cell phones as mobile devices increasingly act like computers

Discussion Question: How do you think cell phone spam affects the potential for mobile marketing?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

Join the Discussion!

13 Comments on "Spam Moves to Cell Phones"


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Charlie Moro
Guest
Charlie Moro
14 years 16 days ago

The spam issue is of course distracting and somewhat rude, but the opportunity will be there from a marketing perspective if those companies trying to communicate in this manner make it easy and understand the audience.

Let’s face it, the phone is clumsy for tracking web sites and downloading, but if it were simple, for example, for Starbucks (everyone’s favorite target lately) to send a message to your phone and ask you to hit *3, giving you a credit for the unsolicited message, and an email with a code for $1 off a latte… maybe while you’re out and about you’d stop there and make a purchase

The opportunities I think to make the experience positive could be very interesting.

James Tenser
Guest
14 years 16 days ago

The trend among phone companies toward unlimited service plans is likely to undercut the objections based on cost to consumers. This has the added side benefit of removing any appearance that the phone companies might be tempted to profit from mobile spam.

But the 20 cents per message is not the only–or even the main–reason why cellphone spam must be controlled. Unsolicited junk messages threaten to interfere with efficient legitimate communications and disrupt people people’s lives a beep at a time, millions of times a day.

The mobile spam threat may also prove to be a damper on certain clever in-store marketing concepts that propose to use cell phones to communicate in stores. It will be incumbent for the network to provide a reliable means to distinguish between desired (opt-in) and prohibited (spam) messages and filter them accordingly. I for one don’t relish adding a performance-hogging spam blocker to my phone.

Rick Bowen
Guest
Rick Bowen
14 years 16 days ago

If the carriers would block the public gateways (urls) and crack down on the use of a cell phone as a bridge between PC/laptop for large out-bound SMS (text messages), a great deal of the unsolicited text messages would be eliminated. Those companies or organizations that adhere to the FCC, CTIA and the MMA rules, regulations and best practices are audited monthly by the carriers. They are required to inform the end-users on how to opt-out and to actually remove them from the out-bound message databases. We are challenged every day to compete with the companies that access those public gateways for free, pop up over night, are not provisioned or audited and disappear just as quickly. If the end-user receives an unsolicited text message not sent from a short code, the company sending the message is probably not regulated. If the message is sent from a short code, you can look up the company that owns the short code at http://www.usshortcodes.com and follow up with your carrier.

Warren Thayer
Guest
14 years 16 days ago

Moro and Goldberg both raise good points. Some ambitious senator or congressman is bound to see this as a golden opportunity and get a law passed. The difference here vs. computer spam is the charge to the phone user, and for this reason I’d expect to see as much outrage generated here as there is over, say, trivial matters such as global warming.

Max Goldberg
Guest
14 years 16 days ago

Mobile phone spam will impact mobile marketing. And if consumers are charged any fees for incoming spam messages, or for legitimate advertising messages, expect state and national legislative action to quickly follow.

Smart mobile companies and brands will allow consumers to opt in, rather than pushing out messages or requiring consumers to opt out. They will also move to offset the cost of consumers’ mobile phone bills by paying them to receive opt in ads. Look for a number of advertising options to be tested over the next few years.

Christopher P. Ramey
Guest
14 years 16 days ago

It’s simple. Phone companies have to eliminate it or expect government intervention. The outrage has begun.

Dan Jones
Guest
Dan Jones
14 years 16 days ago

The carriers can and will shut down unsolicited spammers. For carriers, the stakes are high–if they cannot keep out spam, consumers will move to other carriers.

For spammers, the penalties for unsolicited messages are severe–and they should be.

There will be more commercial text messages in the coming years, but these are legitimate messages provided to consumers that opt-in. Text messages are impactful to consumers because only friends and select brands have access to the phones. Carriers and consumers alike will work hard to keep this medium relevant, and keep spam out.

Marc Gordon
Guest
Marc Gordon
14 years 16 days ago
For any type of marketing to be successful, two tasks have to happen: A message has to be broadcast and someone has to be willing to accept it. In a perfect world, that person would then act on the message which would result in a transaction for the company that sent it. However, when a situation occurs where the message is received in a way, time, or place that is inconvenient or intrusive to the receiver, it can actually result in a negative reaction. Just ask anyone who’s received a telemarketing call at dinnertime. I think this situation creates a fantastic opportunity for providers to attract new subscribers by being able to effectively block this form of spam. I would suggest to any business that’s looking to take advantage of this new form of communication, to present the option for subscribers to opt in to a text messaging campaign through conventional advertising methods. I believe this would be far more accepted and less intrusive than just going ahead and sending messages, then expect subscribers to… Read more »
Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 16 days ago

Until cell phone software can automatically block text messages from folks not in your personal phone directory, text message spam will blossom. I had my cell carrier shut off my text messaging, even though it was “free”. Anything that wastes time isn’t “free”.

Laura Davis-Taylor
Guest
Laura Davis-Taylor
14 years 16 days ago

This debate runs along the same lines as the topic of tracking demographic profiles of shoppers in-store without permission: whether or not we should do something just because we can! Any marketer that thinks that sending out spam cell phone messages is going to result in anything other than consumer backlash is crazy. People have got to control it and be motivated to participate in it…period.

Marc’s point above is good: figure out a way to make it work according to consumer control and let’s make sure that we don’t eradicate a potentially wonderful marketing channel by short term greediness.

Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
Guest
Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
14 years 16 days ago

If spam-like messages start to come in on cell phones, without any real benefit or authorization from the user, you will see people seeking ways to turn off the feature that allows such intrusion to take place. This will have an impact on mobile marketing. If the positive associations outweigh the negatives, then consumers will put up with a little abuse of the privilege. So, it’s up to the mobile marketers to get this behavior off to a strong and positive start and create the habit. Otherwise, this marketing opportunity will generate an even more negative consumer backlash than the delete button or filters on a computer.

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
14 years 16 days ago

Spam to mobile phones will kill mobile marketing. Most phone plans are based upon a finite number of minutes per billing period. If spam is using my time, I am annoyed. If spam is using my time and minutes, I am angry–very angry.

I predict that spamming cell phones will be met by such a howl of dissatisfaction that legislation will be implemented that will severely hamper any mobile marketing efforts. Why would anyone think that there will not be a “do not call” list for cell phones with very serious penalties?

Carlos Arámbula
Guest
14 years 16 days ago

Mobile marketing should not be a text version of SPAM. Good mobile marketing is an extension of social marketing where the message will be welcomed and potentially utilized (read actionable) by the consumer.

We will experience an abuse of text lists but ultimately it will become a non-issue. We must keep in mind that we are still in the nascent stage of mobile communications – issues such as cost of a text message can now be eliminated by mobile companies that offer unlimited text service.

wpDiscuz

Take Our Instant Poll

Do you think legitimate mobile marketers will be able to stay ahead of the spam problem?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...