True story. This weekend, just as Bloomberg’s widely circulated piece on the rise of “Spam Texts” is about to hit, I overhear this conversation at my local comic book shop.
“I had a first this week -- a spam ad on my phone,” one of a crowd of superhero enthusiasts said proudly. The crew commiserated, but most admitted they had yet to get an actual unsolicited SMS message. Most complained of voice channel solicitations.
And so it has gone with me and most of my friends these past years. The SMS channel in the U.S. has been relatively clean, thanks in no small part to the work of the Mobile Marketing Association and its collation of carriers, marketers and publishers. A number of years ago they issued some very strict double-op-in regimens for subscribing to anything via SMS that the carriers enforced on their content partners.
Everyone’s mileage varies, of course. My daughter complains that she has gotten text messages from a range of spammers all the time. But I couldn’t be sure how much of this was coming from services she had actually joined without understanding the full terms.
Regardless, according to Bloomberg’s industry analyst source, the U.S. suffered 4.5 billion spam messages last year, up 45%. The article recounts a weird technique for sending spam at no cost. The culprit simply uses a prepaid phone with unlimited texting and then uses speed and auto dialing technology to spray randomly generated numbers. In an age of third-party apps and much looser controls on the operating system itself, it is much easier for bad actors to access sensitive data.
Whether or not select individuals like you or I are seeing this spam outbreak for ourselves, the CTIA wireless association apparently is taking notice and plans to unveil an anti-spam program later this year. Security software companies -- of course seeing a post-PC windfall -- are promising new modes of protection as well.
Alex Campbell, co-founder and CIO a Vibes Media, which has led many text campaigns in the last decade, agrees that spam SMS only annoys consumers and increases costs for carriers. It also makes all messaging less effective. “Spam messages do in fact cost carriers money. Every time someone calls the carrier to complain it costs them real dollars -- up to $12 a call.”
Is mobile text spam really a problem yet, and should mobile marketers be concerned? I am not clear where the 4.5 billion spam messages are coming from or going, but apparently Ferris Research is the one making the claim, cited in Bloomberg and earlier by The New York Times. This reporter asked the FTC, which says that the 2600 complaints filed with them about mobile text abuse in 2011 was about the same as in 2010.
Campbell adds that while billions of unwanted messages may sound like a big number, “it’s less than a quarter percent of all SMS traffic. Imagine if email were that good.”
So go figure. Is it a real problem or isn’t it?
Regardless, in this case perception is all. And this outbreak of report on text spam, if not an outbreak of SMS spam itself, does give publishers and marketers a chance to distinguish themselves by emphasizing to their SMS subscribers that their numbers are never shared in any way. There are a lot of ways in which mobile gives publishers and advertisers a do-over with digital. Instead of mealy-mouthing our way around privacy and data sharing, how about if we turn stewardship over our brand loyalists’ data a feature rather than a fear?