Spam in the Airwaves

By eweek  |  Posted 2001-10-29

The wireless industry should quickly address the issue of spam, or irresponsible companies such as Acacia National Mortgage are going to annoy wireless data users enough to make them turn off their cell phones entirely.

Acacia made headlines earlier this year for sending unwanted text messages to wireless data customers. The messages were meant to look as though they were sent by mistake, as they were addressed to someone other than the recipient. The notes read something like: "Dear Paula, did you see [Alan] Greenspan lowered rates? Still want to refinance?" The message included a phone number and Web address.

Verizon Wireless filed a lawsuit against Acacia in Denver District Court, but settled. As part of the deal, Acacia agreed to stop sending unsolicited messages to Verizon Wireless customers.

Unfortunately, that settlement doesnt help customers of AT&T Wireless and other operators. Rodney Joffe, a Phoenix AT&T Wireless user who has received messages from Acacia, is assembling a class action lawsuit against the mortgage company. Joffes case hinges on the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which says that its against the law to make unsolicited calls to a phone where the recipient must pay, or to a cell phone. According to Joffe, Acacia claims that because most cell phone users have bucket plans, they arent paying for the text messages it sends.

Computer e-mail customers have been unsuccessful at pushing antispam legislation — only a few states have such rules. Cell phone users might be more successful at creating antispam laws because wireless spam is more intrusive and awkward to handle.

Wireless operators dont support restrictions that make it hard to send text messages. If wireless providers want to avoid legislation, theyll have to offer better solutions for customers. AT&T Wireless response to Joffe was an offer to turn off his Short Message Service. As much as the cell phone companies dont want more laws, theyll need some restrictions, or companies such as Acacia will continue to come up with "creative" yet annoying advertising methods that will make customers wary of data services.

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