Mobile spam becoming a major problem

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17 Feb 04

Empower Interactive has published the findings of a study into mobile SPAM. The research, conducted in parallel among the global mobile network operator community and a sample of mobile subscribers, highlights the need for the introduction of suitable mechanisms to launch a consistent and unified defence against this growing threat.

Over 80% of operators surveyed by Empower Interactive agreed that SPAM poses a serious problem. Yet only one fifth has so far implemented any safeguards to protect their customers. More worrying is the fact that one third has no plans to do so at any point in the future.

The potential for SPAM to undermine consumer confidence, damage operator brands and ultimately stifle revenue growth is highlighted by the parallel consumer study. The majority (65%) of mobile owners already receive up to five SPAM messages per week, a level perceived to be acceptable by 45% of operators. By sharp contrast, over 70% of subscribers find all SPAM unacceptable.

To underline discontent among subscribers, the regulatory body, ICSTIS (Independent Committee for the Supervision of Standards of Telephone Information Services) received well over 10,000 consumer complaints about mobile SPAM in the UK last year. The GSM Association lists SPAM as one of the top four threats to the future of the mobile industry.

Richard Shearer, CEO at Empower Interactive, calls for rapid action: "The industry is aware that mobile SPAM is growing at an alarming rate. Operators recognise the value of mobile messaging, and particularly applications such as gaming and entertainment. Yet unless they act now, the potentially negative impact on their brand, together with the additional Customer Service overhead created by SPAM, may consume these incremental revenue streams very quickly."

He continues: "The majority of the operator community currently points to legislation as a key means to control mobile SPAM. External regulation is important, but unless measures are also taken from within the industry, this problem may eventually reach the epidemic proportions of Internet SPAM."

The operator view is that legislation should take precedence over self regulation, an opinion that is echoed by over 60% of consumers. Consumers appear to have limited faith in the ability of industry to regulate itself: less than 10% of mobile subscribers believe operator action alone will resolve this growing problem, and over 30% believe that even the combined forces of national and international legislation, supported by new operator measures, will ultimately be ineffective.

Encouragingly, many operators do recognise the role new technologies can play in combating mobile SPAM. Opinion on which types of technical safeguards are most effective is divided, however. 30% identified SMSC (Short Message Service Centre) source address blocking and a further 30% pointed to filtering by message content. 21% felt volume control (involving preset alarming and throttling limits) would offer the most effective solution. Less than one fifth pointed to filtering by subscriber feedback as the most useful mechanism.

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