Waspa warns on spam SMS

2011-06-22 10:27


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Cape Town - The incidence of spam SMS is growing and an industry association believes that South Africans have the right to be protected from unsolicited messages.

"I would say it is a common problem, but certainly not at the same level of e-mail," managing director of BulkSMS.com, which is a member of the Wireless Application Service Providers Association (Waspa), Dr Pieter Streicher told News24.

He said that while unsolicited SMSes were becoming more common, e-mail was the predominant vehicle for spam, accounting for a major share of total internet traffic.

"If you look at your own phone, I think almost everybody has received the spam SMS before. With e-mail the levels are: 90% of all e-mails are spam; with SMS I think it's below 4%."

Many firms send cellphone users commercial messages where the user has to "opt out" in order not to receive them. Waspa has insisted that members provide an "opt out" mechanism in its new code of conduct that excludes all marketing from a company.

Unsolicited marketing

"You do not pay to receive any SMS messages, however, if you wanted to opt out, then you would have to pay. That's a key difference there," said Streicher.

Waspa does not allow unsolicited marketing to non-clients because the organisation wants to eliminate the cost attached for users to receive or opt out of receiving spam.

"For that reason, our industry association and also the Internet Service Providers Association, for e-mail and SMS, do not allow unsolicited direct marketing to non-clients. For e-mail, the reason is the receiver pays to receive the message, for SMS, the reason is there's no free way to stop those messages.

"That's why the respective codes of conduct do not allow unsolicited messaging to third party databases, even though the laws of the country do allow it," Streicher said.

The Consumer Protection Act came into effect this year and it makes provision for people who receive unsolicited messages to opt out, but does not impose any liability on the sender of the marketing material.

"If you look at the Consumer Protection Act and the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act, they all work on an opt out basis. That means anyone can send you anything until you opt out.

"That's why Waspa's different. Because there's a cost to opting out, we say 'No'," said Streicher.


Waspa's code also prohibits spam from being sent during specified times.

"The code also highlights that direct marketing messages may not be sent on Sundays or public holidays, nor on Saturdays before 09:00 or after 13:00, or between 20:00 and 08:00 on all other days," the organisation said.

Streicher said that where consumers have not given their details to a company for the purpose of receiving marketing, that firm should not be able to send unsolicited SMSes.

"You have to opt in first when you haven't directly given your name to a company," he said.

Waspa is concerned about messages that are sent to consumers, particularly from companies that purchase details from third parties.

"That is a lot more problematic because that means they have bought your details somewhere. It involves the buying and selling of personal details."


Waspa's code of conduct differs from existing legislation in the country, but is aligned with similar regulations in Europe and the UK.

Streicher warned consumers that they should report the practice to Waspa as it contravenes the organisation's rules, even though it does not break any South African laws.

"It's for that reason that Waspa says: 'If a company that you've never dealt with sends you an SMS message, you should report that to Waspa because it's not allowed.'

"You shouldn't use opt out or anything because it will cost you money, you should report that directly to Waspa because that practice is not allowed," he said.

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