Social networking sites are increasingly used to promote phone-paid services. Premium rate line regulator PhonepayPlus has published “points on compliance” to address concerns over transparency, misleading advertising and data abuse. Anna Montes dials in.
Topic: Mobile Marketing
When: April and May 2009
Where: United Kingdom
Law stated as at: 1 June 2009
PhonepayPlus ("PPP"), the premium-rate telephone services regulator, has published some advice on compliance relevant to those promoting premium rate services online and in the context of social networking sites. PPP has acknowledged that social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace are increasingly being used to promote premium rate services and its advice provides information for service providers as to how to operate and promote their services in a manner compliant with the PPP Code of Practice. The main points made by PPP in its advice are:
Manipulation of social networking sites' data
The advertisers of premium rate services should not manipulate the personal data available on social networking site to make a statement that is untrue. PPP provides the example of an advertiser promoting its services to users of social networking sites by inviting them to participate in a phone-paid service on the grounds that their friend has challenged them to an IQ quiz, when the friend referred to has in fact never participated in the service concerned. PPP has made it clear that if such promotional tactics are used by advertisers, it will view the service concerned as being misleading (and therefore in breach of rule 5.4.1(a) of the PPP Code of Practice).
Promotions launched by affiliate partners
Increasingly, mobile phone-paid services and subscriptions are being promoted online and PPP has also commented on the fact that it is increasingly likely that some such web-based promotions will be undertaken by an affiliate partner of an information provider rather than the information provider themselves. PPP has therefore issued advice to remind information providers that all aspects of service promotion remain their responsibility. The onus therefore lies with information providers to ensure that their affiliates are fully aware of the provisions within the PPP Code of Practice that must be complied with and that those provisions are actually being adhered to.
PPP also advises that affiliates must not be incentivised to promote phone-paid services in ways that could breach the PPP Code of Practice, for example by inappropriately including the use of the word "free" in promotion materials or manipulating an individual's profile information on a social networking site to mislead them into purchasing a premium rate service.
Visibility of applicable terms and conditions
PPP has sought to stress that its Code Compliance Panel is likely to uphold complaints of breaches of the PPP Code of Practice where consumers are required to scroll down or up a website page to enable them to view the key terms and conditions applicable to the service of interest to them. PPP considers that if this is the case, the terms and conditions have not been made sufficiently prominent to consumers and so a breach of the Code of Practice will have occurred. Information providers should therefore always ensure that where a consumer is able to sign up for a premium rate service online, the key terms and conditions applicable to that service are made prominently and easily available on the same webpage without the need to scroll up or down to see the text.
Unsolicited marketing communications and web opt-in
PPP's statement makes it clear that it still continues to receive a "significant" number of complaints from consumers where 'unsolicited messages' are concerned. PPP is now therefore recommending that where users are required to enter their mobile phone number online, to seek to ensure that the user validly opts in to a service, the webpage concerned should be structured so that it contains the following:
1. a brief statement that confirms where the service content will be displayed (e.g. mobile handset, next screen, etc.);
2. a mobile number field;
3. a brief paragraph summarising the key terms and conditions applicable to the service concerned (for instance where a subscription service is concerned PPP says that it should be made clear the service is a subscription service and what the cost of participating in the service is);
4. an unchecked mandatory tick box stating "I agree to the terms and conditions"; and then
5. a "next/submit" button.
PPP feels that if the webpage where users submit their mobile phone numbers is structured in this way, this should reduce the information provider's legal risks "given the risks associated with web opt-in, and the difficulty in proving that a consumer has validly opted into a service (where they have opted in via a website)".
Why this matters:
Due to the increase in the number of complaints that PPP and Ofcom receive each year regarding PRS and the advertising of PRS, compliance is back high on the agenda with both bodies as is clear from the communications they have issued over the last few weeks.
Advertisers are well-advised to pay attention to PPP's latest advice where the promotion of PRS online is concerned to ensure that while they engage with their potential customers in increasingly novel ways online, they remain on the correct side of the line where the PPP Code of Practice is concerned. Transparency is always something that PPP will look for and this should in turn become of key importance for PRS providers.