Spamming has taken a new form in this era of mobile phones and text messaging. In addition to fighting the clutter in our e-mail inboxes, we are also faced with clutter on our cell phones. In the words of the FTC, text message spam is a “triple threat.” First, mobile spam often uses the promise of free gifts or product offers to get you to reveal personal information such as bank account, credit card, or Social Security information. Alternatively, clicking on a link in a text message can lead to the installation of malware that collects information on your phone and sends it to a third party. Second, the spam can lead to unwanted charges on your cell phone bill. Third, these unsolicited messages can slow your cell phone’s performance.
With few exceptions, it is illegal to send unsolicited commercial e-mail messages to wireless devices, unless the sender gets your permission first. The FTC has taken an active interest in preventing this spamming from continuing. In March 2013, the FTC filed eight different complaints in courts around the United States charging twenty-nine defendants with collectively sending more than 180 million unwanted text messages to consumers, many of whom had to pay for receiving the texts. The messages promised consumers free gifts or prizes, including gift cards worth $1,000 to major retailers such as Best Buy, Walmart, and Target, in exchange for providing sensitive personal information, applying for credit, or paying to subscribe to services. The text message spamming network involved the individuals sending the spam, who got paid by website operators based on how many consumers entered information on each website, and website operators, who were paid by businesses that gained customers through the process.
In July 2013, the FTC continued its campaign against these spammers by filing another complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois naming another set of defendants in this network. Cell phone companies as well as major big box retailers, fearing that this practice tarnishes their brands, have also warned their customers and provided avenues through which to lodge complaints.
The Way I See It
- I see that, while text message spamming was inevitable, it, unlike e-mail spamming, may have an end in sight since there are direct costs to the consumer from simply viewing the message, there are direct effects on cell phone service, and there are many ways for consumers to prevent this spamming from occurring (i.e., putting one’s number on the National Do Not Call Registry or submitting a complaint to a cell phone company, retailer, or the FTC).
- I see that retailers and cell phone companies will continue to side with the FTC in fighting these practices.
- I see that spamming as an antiquated practice in a modern world where most retailers and advertisers are more focused on targeted advertising with a tailored message rather than mass distribution. It’s doubtful that these text spamming efforts will likely be a dominant aspect of mobile advertising going forward.