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Spam war settles into mobile phones

Spam sent by text message could become a bigger problem than junk e-mail unless the industry takes action, according to a U.K. phone regulator.

Spam sent by text message could become a bigger problem than e-mail-based spam unless the industry takes action, according to an independent mobile phone regulator.

More than two-thirds mobile phone customers have received spam on their phones, raising fears that it won't be long before the medium falls prey to the same barrage of unsolicited marketing messages now plaguing e-mail accounts.

And though the levels may never hit the millions of unwanted messages seen with PC-based e-mail each day, the Independent Committee for the Supervision of Standards of Telephone Information Services (ICSTIS) suggests that the problem may well have a greater impact on wireless users because of the reliance they place on mobile phones and because most people regard them as a far more personal point of contact than PC-based e-mail. In short, mobile spam will be an even greater invasion of privacy.

The limited storage capacity of many mobile phones may already mean that some people are unable to receive legitimate SMS (Short Message Service) messages.

A recent survey conducted by over the past five days reveals that 69 percent of respondents have received spam on their mobile phone.

Mike Grenville, chief executive of the mobile messaging association 160 Characters, said: "I find nearly everybody I have spoken to has received spam on their mobile phone, but while it can be irritating, I don't think it will ever become the problem we are seeing with e-mail.

"For a start, every test message costs money. The days of free texts have gone--and this is going to be a major factor in controlling the amount of mobile spam. If somebody wants to send a million e-mails perhaps from the U.S. to addresses in Europe then it doesn't really hurt them too much but if somebody wants to send a million text messages across the Atlantic then that's a lot of dosh (money)," added Grenville.

As with e-mail addresses, Greenville warns that what consumers do with mobile phone numbers online may have a direct impact upon how much spam they receive.

He made specific mention of companies that offer ring-tone downloads being a source of mobile phone number "harvesting."

Gary Corbett, managing director of Opera Telecom, which operates premium mobile phone services for media company Emap and Internet service provider Tiscali, said that it was "about time SMS service providers and network operators started to take more responsibility for self-regulation in order to safeguard the credibility of our fledgling industry.

"SMS has been on the crest of a wave as marketers start to appreciate the potential of its application within their environment. However, mobile phone regulator ICSTIS continues to receive a growing number of consumer complaints as some mobile gateway companies consistently ignore guidelines and exploit consumers."

Corbett has little sympathy for those companies bringing his industry into disrepute.

"Let's get tough with offenders and impose heavy penalties for misuse of SMS services," he said. "And if necessary let's lobby to terminate license agreements and access to networks. This way we can banish the unscrupulous traders to history."

160characters' Grenville offered hope to people who are plagued by SMS spam. While the problem of e-mail spam may not be solved by a tightening of EU legislation, due to much of it originating outside the EU, Grenville believes most SMS spam is sent within the country of origin, because of the associated costs.

As such it will become easier for lawmakers and organizations such as ICSTIS to levy fines on unscrupulous users.'s Will Sturgeon reported from London.