I am certain that I am not the only one being harassed by these unsolicited messages. Curious, I began keeping count of the messages I received. I observed that more than sixty percent of the text messages I received on two different networks were unsolicited ‘enticing’ messages. I find this very worrying.
The biggest culprit of this practice are GSM service providers themselves, inviting one to participate in some promotion or to download a ringtone, switch to a new plan or subscribe to some value added service for sports, health, quotes or other such updates. The latter presents an interesting case. Most times, the terms and conditions of such services are not spelt out to the subscriber who unsuspectingly signs up and ends up being debited daily without his/her consent. Even when the provider has been magnanimous enough to offer free SMS, they often require the subscriber to activate it by sending a certain code to a certain number. These SMSes are not free; indeed they come at rates higher than the regular SMS rates.
When it is not GSM providers nudging one to part with more money, it is businesses advertising and promoting their products. SMS promotion has become the preferred channel for cheap publicity for most businesses and this is supported by the thriving SMS identity market out there. I was a little shocked to learn recently that there are people whose business it is to sell GSM phone number databases to willing buyers. This business seems to have experienced a boom following the SIM card registration exercise. The rather non-discrete manner in which the exercise was handled, placing such vital data in the hands of adhoc staff and persons of questionable character in street corners, busy motor parks and unmarked places, was sure to lead to a situation where the vital data of innocent subscribers were unsecure and thus prone to such offensive SMS based marketing campaigns and even other more sinister activities.
And it is not just businesses that buy the data and use them to harangue members of the public, politicians also do. Recently, during the build-up to the gubernatorial election in Edo state, I received two messages from promoters of Adams Oshiomhole, urging me to vote him. This is regardless of the fact that I was neither an Edo citizen, have never lived there and do not have a voter’s card that qualifies me to vote there.
Perhaps the most worrying is the use of SMS by con artists and scammers. E-mail fraud is becoming slightly unpopular these days. The SMS version has taken over. The ability to clone senders ID and give the impression they are coming from a particular source, with a view to deceiving the recipient into parting with their hard earned finances, makes this potent. Other times, subscribers receive messages of phony promotions inviting them to send a short code to another short code to win certain gift items or cash in a raffle draw. In most cases, no such draws exist and the customer is charged heavily for participating. So successful is this business that some promoters of “Become a Millionaire working from Home” schemes now advertise it as potent source of income online and it’s even taught in some self-empowerment trainings.
These schemes are believed to be carried out in consonance with the GSM operators. These unfortunate occurrences insult the sensibilities of subscribers, infringe on their rights to privacy and expose them to fraudsters. In addition, they are in total negation of the provisions of the Mobile Marketing Association which provides that consumers have a right to privacy and marketers must gain approval from consumers before content is sent to them. It is the accepted global practice that consumers should have control of when and how they receive marketing messaging on their phone, and must be allowed to easily terminate or “opt-out” of an unwanted programme.
Certain government agencies must share in the blame for this breakdown and should rise up to the occasion in controlling it. The Nigeria Communications Commission, the industry regulator, must rein in the operators and secure consumer data in their possession by prescribing and enforcing stiff punishments in event of a breach. The National Lottery Regulatory Commission, similarly, should sit up and tackle the recurring issue of fraudulent promotions and marketing gimmicks by GSM operators and other businesses in the country. The multiplicity of raffle draws and “win millions” promotions has become quite embarrassing and daily, many Nigerians fall victims of fraudsters. The EFCC, working closely with other agencies, must fashion out a strategy for tackling this new menace.
Above all, the Consumer Protection Council–which I am certain many readers will be shocked exists–must begin to earn their pay. The Nigerian consumer is a daily victim of all sorts of ill-treatment and like we often say, enough is enough.
Have a great week ahead.