SOUTH AFRICA—It seems as if a potentially problematic method of gaining subscribers on the internet has migrated to mobile networks, where there actually exists greater opportunity to slip a fast one by inattentive phone users. In every way, in fact, the mobile environment is rifer for rip-off than the computer browser, which unlike the littler screen tends to better hold one’s attention.
The current issue involves Wasps, an acronym for wireless application service providers, which contract with carriers to provide value-added content to their subscribers. One of the problems with Wasps can occur at the point the subscriber approves the charge. All too often, it seems, the subscriber is unaware they’ve approved anything at all, especially if the Wasp takes a short-cup and decides not to provide a double opt-in mechanism. It is precisely that “oversight” that has occurred with scores of South Africans.
Complaints to carriers regarding Wasp charges that wind up on bills involve more than just porn sites, to be sure, but according to an article posted today to iol.co.za, porn Wasps by their nature create special problems for unwary mobile subscribers.
“Scores have alleged that they received a message on their phone, opened it, saw it had something to do with a link to a porn site and quickly closed it,” the website reported. “Weeks later they discovered they’d been subscribed to a service—among them Adult Zone and Erotic Tube—at R10 a day. Some were charged that fee several times a day.”
The problem is not unique to a single provider, either. The article details complaints made by subscribers to MTN and also Vodacom, including the following by one Leigh Brand, who wrote, ““I recently checked my Vodacom cell phone bill and saw that I’m being billed three times a day for some service at R8.76 a time.”
A call to his provider sent him to a Wasp called Smartcall.
“So I called Smartcall and asked what this service is, because I did not subscribe to it,” Brand wrote. “The woman said she would send me proof that I did subscribe on June 16, but she could not tell me what service this was for. I asked her to send the proof, and to unsubscribe me.”
According to iol.co.za, Brand then received three SMSes saying he had been unsubscribed from Erotic Tube.
“I had no recollection of subscribing to this service, but then I remembered that a couple of weeks ago I received an MMS from an unknown number, which I opened, and saw that it was adult in nature, so I closed the page and deleted the MMS,” wrote Brand.
“I did not click on any checkbox saying that I subscribe to this service or that I agree to their terms and conditions or anything like that,” he added. “They have been taking money from me for something I never gave them permission for, for a service I have not even used.”
Brand was finally refunded all of his money by Smartcall, but his experience is probably being repeated numerous times with subscribers who either do not notice or fail to take the steps he did to get his money back. The problem is, they should not have to in the first place.
A South African organization called WASPA (Wireless Application Service Providers' Association) has developed “a code of content for Wasps that states that before a person can be subscribed to a content service, whether via a cell phone or online, they must go through a “double opt-in” procedure, whereby a second, separate message pops up, revealing the service which is being subscribed to and what it will cost, and then asking the consumer to confirm.”
With porn content, the Wasp is required to get more specific consent, but according to the article, this didn’t happen with the Adult Zone and Erotic Tube subscriptions. It turns out that Smartcall itself contracts with third party content providers.
“A third party mobile advertising company was commissioned to acquire customers on behalf of the service, using another gateway,” said Lorinda Wepener of Smartcall Technology Solutions (STS), in response to a query. She added the company had received an “influx” of complaints about a service offered by third party client, JP Consulting.
“A third party mobile advertising company was commissioned to acquire customers on behalf of the service, using another gateway,” she said. “As we had no control over the advertising platform, the complaints we received assisted us to identify a possible issue with the service offered by the third party. In the meantime, STS has suspended the service in question pending an investigation. STS has always worked closely with Waspa and the networks in order to assist in eradicating any unlawful practices.”
Though apparently limited to South Africa, the Wasp issues is yet another reason for mobile subscribers to keep a sharp eye on the bill.