Digital Content

A watchdog body has been set up to guard the mobile industry against unscrupulous SMS services that rip off consumers. The Wireless Application Service Providers Association (WASPA) has been established by industry players, with seed money from the three cellular operators, and is an organisation aimed at providing protection to service providers.

According to WASPA's deputy chairman, Pieter de Villiers of Clickatell, it is impossible to monitor all the third-party traffic that is pushed over a network, so the association has been formed to protect service providers from being held liable for defamatory or illegal third-party content.

"It is also about protecting the public from unscrupulous scammers who operate dubious businesses that secretly charge huge fees for their SMS services," he says.

"One of WASPA's aims is to identify and act appropriately to stop such scams. It also gives consumers a platform for any grievances that might have to be heard."

A spokesman for MTN says the operator's main role with WASPA had been to help the organisation set up, but it felt the time was right for such an organisation.

WASPA chairman Leon Perlman says that the biggest complaint about premium rate SMS services is that consumers are often hit by hidden costs.

He says that often unsolicited SMS providers supply a "short cut" number of four or five digits for the opt out option, but that these numbers cost the SMS spam receiver at least one rand.

"The short cut numbers take the place of the all the opt out numbers of the various network operators that should be supplied in the spam SMS. The originators of the spam make at least 60 cents per opt out SMS they receive," he says.

Other hidden cost scams include not informing a consumer that in order to download something, such as a ring tone, at least two SMS would have to be sent, each costing six rand, meaning the total cost is double that initially thought.

However, Perleman says SMS scams are a global phenomenon and that some consumers are hit far worse than in South Africa.

"In countries such as the US and Russia, the recipient of an SMS pays for receiving it as well and so suffers at least double the charge those in SA face," he says.

De Villiers says it makes a lot of sense to have a non-profit body addressing the important industry issues on a collective basis, in order to ensure growth and help to develop world-class professional services.

"We will also institute a WASPA logo that will identify members of the association, in order to help members of the public identify reputable service providers," he says.

"Apart from providing protection for service providers and the public and developing a code of conduct for the industry, WASPA will also act as a lobbying association, as it is important to ensure the common interests and concerns of the industry are addressed by the relevant players."

He says WASPA hopes to play a supportive role to the Independent Communications Authority of SA as the regulator cannot be everywhere at once. "The point of our organisation will be to ensure responsible conduct among our members."

Key members of WASPA's management committee include chairman Leon Perlman of CellularOnline; Neil Hutchinson of Grapevine, who focuses on the code of conduct; iTouch's Greg Brophy, who will act as treasurer; Tsepo Mahlaba of e-Connexion, who handles the regulatory portfolio; and network liaison manager Alan Knott-Craig Jr, who will be the liaison between the WASPA committee and the three cellular operators.

IT Web