Insurance firms shamed for spam SMS

2012-08-03 07:29
The insurance industry is the most prolific when it comes to sending spam to cellphones. (Jay Reeves, AP)

The insurance industry is the most prolific when it comes to sending spam to cellphones. (Jay Reeves, AP)

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Cape Town - The worst industry in sending spam to consumers is the insurance industry and consumers should take measure to limit their exposure to unsolicited mail, an industry insider has said.

"The highest volume of spam in South Africa currently is in the insurance industry and the second industry is cellphone contracts. Those two in terms of our surveys are the industries that send out the most spam," managing director of Dr Pieter Streicher told News24.

Spam sent to cellphones is become a big problem in South Africa, particularly as users have to unsubscribe from the list to limit the number of messages.

Streicher, however, rejected this method saying that was not good enough to protect consumers.

"Opt out does not work: To give you an example - you have businesses that buy and sell personal information. They create these lists which they then sell on to a company which then uses that list to send marketing information.

"Now let's say you opt out - you are opting out of that specific company sending you marketing information, but you're name is still on the list, and your details on that list are being sold to thousands of other companies. It's impossible to get off the list," he said.


The Consumer Protection Act (CPA) was meant to provide consumers with some degree of defence against a growing mountain of spam via SMS, but its opt out clause means that the onus falls on consumers to try and get themselves off lists.

Streicher warned that the CPA also had the unintended consequence of creating a market for the trade in personal information.

"The Consumer Protection Act works on an opt out basis which basically means that any company in the country can send an e-mail or SMS to anyone in the country... a marketing or promotional message and they only have to stop once consumers opt out.

"That opens the door for spam and creates a market for the buying and selling of personal information."

The Internet Service Providers Association (Ispa) recently published a local spammers Hall of Shame and said that despite efforts, it was difficult to control the unsolicited mail.

"While ISPs have to bear the bulk of the cost for bandwidth overuse by spammers, this cost is often passed onto the consumer through increased internet access fees or a degraded service level," Ispa said.

Spammers were also able to send messages to a new cellphone number within less than two weeks of activation.


"It's harvested in all sorts of places; it's scraped off the internet - any mobile phone number or any e-mail address you happen to publish - even for instance if you advertise a vehicle in the classified newspaper," Streicher said of numbers that were targeted.

He doesn't oppose the sending of unsolicited messages in principle, but was quick to say that when the process was automated, it posed a risk to the people working in marketing industries like telesales.

"It's a big problem when comes to electronic communications because the communication can be automated. It's technically possible to press a button and send a message to 40 million people.

"The excuse that the direct marketing industry uses that it should continue to work on an opt out basis otherwise people are going to lose their jobs is disingenuous because it's an automated process - you don't employ many people."

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