With mounting complaints over breaches of its Code of Practice by marketers and providers of SMS content services, ICSTIS has released revised Guidelines effective July 2003.
Who: The Independent Committee for the Supervision of Telephone Information Services ('ICSTIS')
When: July 2003
The premium rate telephone line watchdog ICSTIS published a revised version of its 'Guideline number 20' on premium rate SMS.
The Guideline, which deals with both ordinary SMS services, where the premium rate charge is applied when the consumer sends a text message, and reverse-billed SMS, when the charge is incurred when a message is sent to the consumer, typically after the consumer has agreed to subscribe to such a service. At present, charges normally range from 10p to the maximum permitted level of £1.50 per message received. This guideline also relates to promotions for both ordinary billed and reverse-billed premium rate SMS.
All ICSTIS Guidelines are intended to advise the premium rate services industry on how the Committee interprets or applies provisions of its Code of Practice, which is currently in its ninth edition.
The key changes which have been made in this new revised version of Guideline number 20 relate to universal stop commands and to age verification, but there are others.
On stop commands, all respondents to the consultation on the proposed revised guideline supported the concept of a universal command to stop services. 'Stop', 'quit' or 'end' were the most popular commands but in reaching its decision ICSTIS took into account the current use by consumers of a plethora or different commands to exit services, and, from the large number of complaints and enquiries ICSTIS received on the issue, consumers' continuing lack of familiarity with how to exit services.
In the circumstances it seemed most logical to ICSTIS that where consumers have already subscribed to services, the original stop command can continue to be operational for a period of two months, but new advertising for existing services after July 2003 must migrate to the new stop command.
The end result is that 'On a balance of probabilities', ICSTIS believes that to aid consumers and ensure simplicity, the word 'stop' should be adopted as the universal command to exit services.
A related issue was whether, assuming a consumer was using a number of different services from a particular provider, the use of simply the word 'STOP' could mean the consumer being disentitled to receive all future services, whereas they might have only intended to unsubscribe from one. To deal with this issue, ICSTIS has decided that the universal command word should not work in isolation, but be capable of being used in conjunction with the relevant service word for example, 'chat' and the words should be used together, cases insensitive and with only one space between the words.
A related new Guideline was that service providers should provide consumers with an instructional message on how to quit a service, which they should be advised to keep, prior to the consumer engaging in the service. This would be on a trial basis for six months to determine whether or not there is a drop in complaints to ICSTIS about being able to exit from premium rates SMS services.
Another amendment to the Guideline is the inclusion of an explanatory note as to the types of information ICSTIS considers to be 'instructional messages'. The significance of this is that instructional messages should not attract a premium rate charge. Three non exhaustive examples of such messages are now included in the Guideline and are messages sent confirming the age of a consumer, confirming the exit of a consumer from a service and explaining how a service works, but not including any content or forming a substantive part of the service itself.
On age verification, the primary area of concern is text chat services. For text chat of an adult nature the minimum age is 18 and for all other text chat the minimum age is 16. Service providers are required to ensure that consumers are over the relevant age before starting the particular service.
The new guideline requires service providers to request either (1) the consumer's date of birth in the form of DD/MM/YY (or a variation thereof) to ensure that the consumers are of the right age to take part in the service, or (2) the consumer should send a text stating their age either in numbers or words.
Why this matters:
Consumers not knowing how to unsubscribe from services are one of the biggest areas of complaint to ICSTIS. The new universal command will hopefully have some effect on complaint levels, although, as ever, public awareness of the change will be critical to the success of the system.
On age verification, the initial ICSTIS proposal was that there should be no choice, and that in every case, individuals should provide their date of birth as opposed to simply their age. The solution now represents a step back from that position, but it is to be hoped that it will have the desired effect nevertheless.