Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Spam that really costs you.

We all knew this was coming, the proliferation of spam on cellphones. Apparently it is not as prevalent here in the US as in some other countries, but expect it to become a serious problem. Cingular, as I recall, even removed its online service to send text messages to their customers via the Internet just because of this situation.

And why not? Every single new cellphone has text messaging enabled by default. Every single service plan has text messaging. Even if you don't sign up for the service, the carrier still turns it on. Why? Because it is a huge cash cow for the service provider. Data transfer is as common as voice over cell transmissions these days, but how you are charged for data varies a great deal. Sending a few kilobytes of data might cost you a few cents, but sending a few bytes in a text message costs 15 cents! The upcharge is outrageous, and it wouldn't surprise me if cell companies intentionally dragged their feet on this issue.

If spam was slowly introduced, and limited to several a month - a rate at which most people may not complain, the profits to the cell companies would be incredibly high.

Think of this: the Internet access button on many phones is larger than any other key, and put right in the center of the arrow keys that are necessary for operating the phone. One little slip and you can be charged for a kb of data transfer. Multiply that by millions of customers, and you've got quite a revenue source.

Why consumers should be mad is that these spam emails are going to shift costs directly to the recipient for what amounts to commercial advertising and worse, scams. I can only imagine the creative scams people will come up with to trick ordinary phone users, users who may not even be aware that their phone messages are subject to spam. Think those ringtone commercials are annoying? Imagine being bombarded with text messages reading "Reply to this message for a FREE RINGTONE!" that secretly signs you up for a monthly service.

Another reason you should always scrutinize your bills.

Fortunately, not many people are aware, you can call your service provider and block data transfer and text messaging. The customer service rep may deny it, or play dumb, but just climb the ladder until you get someone who will perform this for you.

They want you dinged a few times a month for pennies to a dollar, reaping huge profits. Disable text messaging, refuse to be ripped off. Insist on SMS being billed the same as per-kilobyte, and refuse to pay for text spam. You're being taken for a ride, and its going to get worse before it gets better.

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