Call them premium SMS content. Call them Spam. Whatever you call them, they are annoying and can cost you money. Today though brings a change that will alleviate customers from being charged for this sort of Spam or Premium SMS content. Led by Vermont Attorney General, William Sorrell, 44 states attorneys general pushed an anti-spam initiative with US carriers. According to an announcement made this afternoon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile have agreed to end the practice. Verizon issued a statement saying that it didn’t need to agree because it was already winding down the premium message business.
What’s premium messaging? Essentially premium text messaging is a service you subscribe to via SMS and are billed on top of standard rates for SMS. Here’s a more specific definition from a Verizon FAQ (the link is a PDF):
Premium Text Messaging refers to special programs that require an additional fee to subscribe. A premium charge for the subscription is billed to your mobile phone account or deducted from your pre-paid credit, in addition to the standard messaging rates that will be billed for all messages that originate from or terminate to your handset. Premium Text subscriptions are initiated through special numbers, which are 4, 5, or 6 digit numbers called ‘Short Codes’, and always require your consent for the purchase before any messaging content is distributed or participation in any premium messaging program is allowed.
Now you know and I know the same thing that the attorneys general knew. This was a recipe for scam artists and spammers and many unwitting consumers got taken in. Examples of some premium text messaging include sports, weather and stock alerts, joke of the day texts, mobile coupons, trivia, ring tones, and the list goes on and on. Unless a consumer sent a “STOP” command via SMS the messaging would continue as would the billing, sometimes as high as $9.99 a month. Often consumers complained that even after sending a STOP command they would still receive texts. Many consumers were unaware of the extra charges for this seemingly innocuous behavior until the bill hit. Equally as disturbing is that many consumers were unaware that they had signed up for some of the services in the first place. Most of the carriers have blocking services a consumer can use to stop premium messaging, but consumers usually didn’t discover this until the first bill hit.
Not-for-profit charities and political parties and candidates also used premium messaging as a way to raise funds and these organizations will not be affected by the agreement. It will take a few days or weeks for the changes to go into effect
According to Vermont Attorney General William Sorrel in a statement after the agreement was reached, “We are pleased that AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile have decided to stop the flow of money from the pockets of ordinary people to the bank accounts of scam artists.”
Here’s the text of the Verizon statement via The Verge:
“While we don’t agree with all of the Attorney General’s allegations, we respect his efforts in this area. For years, Verizon has been vigilant in protecting our customers from bad actors. There have been numerous times we have terminated programs and in some cases have taken aggressive legal action in order to ensure our customers were protected. Since premium messaging was first introduced, technology advances and smartphone adoption have dramatically changed the way customers access information. Verizon had previously decided to exit the premium messaging business because of these changes as well as recent allegations that third parties have engaged in improper conduct in providing premium messaging services to our customers. We are in the process of winding down our premium messaging business. Verizon will, however, continue to support text-to-donate for charitable programs and text-to-contribute for political campaigns that use this technology.”
Put it this way, you know something is extremely wrong when 44 states attorneys general band together to put an end to it. So, it looks like the good guys win one for a change. Of course there are many consumers who would love for that kind of debate on the way carriers charge for SMS messaging to begin with. But that’s another story.