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What to do about SMS Spam?

Posted by Craig H on 2 December 2009

I don’t often get SMS spam (maybe once a month on average) but it really feels like an intrusion when I do. What I get are usually borderline scams of the “you have won a prize” or “our records indicate you are due compensation for your recent accident” type. I really think that replying to these things (even with “STOP” as they suggest) is only going to encourage them, so I did some investigation about what can be done. I’m in the UK, so I’m going to talk about what to do in the UK, but if anyone can add to this with advice for other countries please do so in the comments!

Having gone through a chain of “not our problem” FAQs (network operator → PhonePayPlus → Ofcom) it turns out that the actual body responsible for punishing senders of unsolicited SMSes in the UK is the Information Commissioner’s Office, as the applicable law is the same as for unsolicited fax messages (the Telecommunications (Data Protection and Privacy) Regulations 1999, amended by the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003).

The ICO have an online form for reporting breaches of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) so I’ve gone ahead and filled that out, which has made me feel a bit better🙂

There does seem to be a loophole here however: the PECR say that if the number is owned by a business rather than an individual, prior permission is not required (and my number is owned by Symbian). If it’s a fax number, it could be registered with the Fax Preference Service to forbid unsolicited fax messages, but there doesn’t seem to be an equivalent SMS Preference Service to forbid unsolicited SMS messages. Am I doomed to accept SMS spam on my work number forever then? We’ll see what the ICO reply to my complaint…

5 Responses to “What to do about SMS Spam?”

  1. Craig H said

    A small update on this, I got a form letter reply from the ICO on 23rd December with a case number, saying they’ll look in to it. Judging by their statistics, this could take several months!

  2. kara said

    I found this website a couple days ago and it’s actually pretty good. It is a bunch of people who log on and either complain or tell how a short code might work. Take a look, smswatchdog.com

    • Craig H said

      Thanks, that is a useful site! They have some interesting statistics in their FAQ:

      “While people in the U.S. might receive two SMS spam messages a year, things are worse in other countries like Europe where one a week is typical; India where people receive as many as two per day; and China where it’s more like five to 10 each day, according to Ferris Research.”

  3. Craig H said

    I got a snail-mail letter from the ICO today saying, as I’d feared, that “The Regulations do not cover text messages received by individuals who are provided with their telephone by their employers” and “rights given to individual subscribers to a telecommunications service have not been extended to corporate subscribers.” So, nothing I can do😦 However, as they did personally respond to my complaint (albeit in 2 1/2 months!) they might be able to do something for anyone who get SMS spam on a personal number.

  4. Craig H said

    Some more news on this topic:

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/03/26/gsma_sms/

    AT&T, Korea Telecom and SFR are piloting a scheme with a short code to which SMS spam can be forwarded for analysis.

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