Mobility Loop


Originally published by Mobility Loop.

Reposted with permission.

Copyright 2006 Core Competence Inc.

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Wireless Spam: Coming to a phone near you?




Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Written by Lisa Phifer   

PhiferEarlier this year, many of us received warnings that our mobile phones were about to be deluged by telemarketing text messages and calls. Ironically, some of these warnings were themselves spam -- unsolicited email, pushed to thousands of in-boxes, mixing fact and fiction. Yes, a wireless 411 directory is under development. But are telemarketers going to be ringing your mobile anytime soon? If they did, could you stop them?

Much ado about far

According to the FCC, your mobile phone is pretty much off-limits to telemarketers. "FCC regulations prohibit telemarketers from using automated dialers to call cell phone numbers. Automated dialers are standard in the industry, so most telemarketers are barred from calling consumers on their cell phones without their consent." If this alone does not calm your fears, you can add your mobile number to the National Do Not Call Registry (, 888-382-1222).

What about that wireless 411 directory? This service, scheduled to launch in 2006, is being developed by major wireless carriers and operated by a third-party aggregator, Qsent. This will be an "opt in" service -- not only must your carrier agree to participate in the service, but each mobile subscriber must formally give their permission to be listed. Subscribers who later change their minds can be de-listed at no cost. Finally, inclusion of mobile OR landline numbers in a 411 directory has no impact whatsoever on laws related to telemarketing. Listed numbers can still be protected by the Do Not Call Registry; auto-dialers are still not permitted to call mobile numbers (listed or unlisted).

What about text messages?

Wireless 411 and the Do Not Call Registry were primarily created to facilitate and deter voice calls, respectively. That begs the question: will telemarketers start using mobile numbers to send SMS (short text) and MMS (text, audio, and/or video) messages?

In July 2003, Japanese carrier DoCoMo announced measures to battle a rising tide of SMS spam being sent to its iMode subscribers. According to news reports, DoCoMo had received mobile spam complaints from over 200,000 subscribers in 2002. By early 2004, DoCoMo had nailed more than 2000 spam abusers.

Analysts cite extensive use of text messaging in Asia as a major contributing factor. According to Forrester Research, 80% of Japanese mobile subscribers use text messaging, compared to just 17% in the US. But, with text messaging on the rise everywhere, SMS spam appears poised to become a problem here as well.

For example, Verizon Wireless filed suit last week against Passport Holidays, alleging that it violated FCC auto-dialer regulations by sending over 98,000 unsolicited short text messages to sequentially-dialed mobile numbers, obscuring origin to evade anti-spam measures. In fact, over the past year, Verizon Wireless has obtained injunctions against several telemarketers, including a text message spammers in Rhode Island and Georgia.

Don't forget email

Of course, mobile phones are not limited to voice calls and text messaging. Many can receive email, including WAP phones that access messages through carrier gateways and IP-addressable Smartphones that run ordinary POP3 clients. While mobile email is hardly new, faster wireless data networks and more powerful Smartphones are increasing mobile email usage. However, most users still find it critical to filter inbound messages to avoid the expense and inconvenience of relaying spam email to mobile devices.

The CAN SPAM Act of 2003 and other state laws have attempted to stem the tide of junk email, but plenty of spam still finds its way to computer in-boxes. According to Postini, just over 59% of today's email messages are spam, up 65% since January 2002. SMTP filters that eliminate both junk and malicious email have become a business network staple, widely deployed by enterprise and carrier servers.

Protecting your mobile

What should this tell us about wireless spam? Don't count on laws to prevent delivery of unsolicited messages to your mobile phone. In the recipient-pays wireless world, spam won't be just an annoying productivity-killer -- every incident will add insult to injury by robbing pennies from your pocketbook. Whether conveyed by voice, SMS, MMS, IM, or email, wireless spam usually incurs per-minute, per-message, or per-kilobyte charges.

Mobile users should take reasonable, practical measures to avoid receiving wireless spam. It may not be troubling you today, but why not take a few simple steps to prevent it from becoming a headache tomorrow?

Go ahead: add your mobile number to the Do Not Call Registry, or the equivalent anti-telemarketing telephone directory in your own country.

Read your carrier's spam policy to understand your liability for unsolicited SMS and MMS messages and whether you have any control over them.

If you're one of the many adults who carry a mobile for voice calls only, disable your phone's ability to receive SMS/MMS. This may be a phone setting, an account feature, or both.

If you use text messaging (or mobile email or mobile Instant Messaging), look for configurable service features like sender block lists, content filters, message/rate limits, and unwanted message controls.

Smartphone users may want to install a program like Trend Micro's Mobile Security -- a tool that fights SMS spam and viruses on Windows Mobile and Symbian phones.

Finally, next time you change wireless carriers, look for one that scans all of the mobile protocols that you intend to use. For example, Aladdin eSafe Mobile Content Security Gateway inspects MMS, WAP, HTTP, and SMTP for viruses and spam.