British Virgin-Islands based Polo Limited may not have expected a £15,000 fine when it sent thousands of text messages inviting punters to call a premium rate line to claim their £150 prize.
Who: The Independent Committee for the Supervision of Standards of Telephone Information Services ("ICSTIS") and Polo Limited of the British Virgin Islands
When: March 2003
Polo Limited, based in the British Virgin Islands, sent unsolicited text messages to the mobile phones of thousands of UK consumers. These described the recipient as a "valued customer". They also suggested that the recipient had won a £150 prize and invited them to use their mobiles to call a premium rate number to claim it.
After receiving 143 consumer complaints, the UK premium rate telephone line watchdog ICSTIS investigated and found that its Code of Practice had been breached on at least 5 counts.
These were (1) the use of the phrase "valued customer" which misleadingly suggested that the message had been sent by the recipient's own mobile phone network, thus giving it an air of legitimacy which was quite inappropriate (2) not giving an adequate description of the "£150 prize" (3) using the word "win" to describe something which everybody who received the message appeared eligible to claim (4) failing to indicate the likely additional cost of calling the service from a mobile phone and (5) not giving any information as to the total cost and duration of the service.
Polo did not respond to the allegations and was fined £15,000, with access to its service banned for one year.
Why this matters:
In its latest annual report, ICSTIS expressed serious concern about the number of complaints being received in respect of reverse-billed premium rate text messages of this kind, where the recipient's return message can cost up to £1.50 per message.
Without "explicit consent", this practice will also be contrary to the new CAP Code from 4 June and contrary to UK law from late 2003 courtesy of the up and coming implementation of the EU Communications Data Protection Directive. Under existing UK law, depending on who one consults, the practice may be regarded as illegal unless recipients have either previously "opted in" to receive such messages or "opted out" of receiving them by registering with the Statutory Telephone Preference Service. However, none of the bodies enforcing these rules and regulations have anything like the mind-concentrating fining powers of ICSTIS, which will undoubtedly continue to be the biggest enforcer on the block in the m-commerce space for the foreseeable future.
Our thanks to "Privacy and Data Protection" for the story which inspired this piece.