November 15, 2006 4:00 AM PST

Text message spam could spell trouble for text-based ads

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In addition to costing consumers money, some of these unwanted text messages have turned out to be what's known as "smishing" attacks or "phishing" attacks adapted for the SMS protocol used to send text messages. Some of these attacks ask recipients to register for a service. Then they attempt to get people to accept a virus or worm on their handset. Others try to extract credit card numbers and other private data.

Most spammers send messages from the Internet using a computer, which allows them to avoid charges associated with sending messages from a phone. But in many ways, this makes finding the spammers relatively easy for the wireless phone companies.

"The real problem could be text-based advertising from the carriers and their partners."
--Iain Gillott, founder of iGillott Research

Using basic filtering tools, cell phone operators can detect high volumes of messages coming from a particular Internet account. And if a particular region is affected, they can easily detect an attack.

That's exactly how Verizon Wireless was able to stop an outbreak of text message spam in May, when 1.1 million messages offering discount prescription medications were sent to Verizon Wireless customers in New Jersey. The company noticed that 70 percent of the spam was going to a few area codes. Verizon Wireless was able to track down the Web site where the spam was coming from, in Poland, and have it shut down.

In June, Verizon Wireless filed suit against the company. Since then, it's filed two other lawsuits against text message spammers. In October, it launched a legal action against a company that had sent 30,000 text messages urging recipients to buy stocks. And in September, it sued another spammer for sending more than 550,000 text messages pushing penny stocks to subscribers in New York City.

More suits
Cingular Wireless has also begun taking legal action against text spammers. In October, the company filed three federal lawsuits against text spammers in federal court in Atlanta. The complaints claim that the companies violated the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act.

The cell phone companies' efforts seem to be paying off. In September, Verizon Wireless said that 5 billion text messages traveled over its network for the month. And the company was able to catch 30,000 it believed were spam.

"Of course, any unsolicited message is one too many for a customer," said Debbie Lewis, a spokeswoman for Verizon Wireless. "But when you look at the numbers, we are able to stop the attacks before they get out of hand."

So what can consumers do to stop receiving unwanted text messages? First, they can limit the number of people they give their cell phone number to. Second, if they do receive a text spam, they should contact their cell phone operator to report the issue and receive a credit. And third, they can disable the text-messaging feature. Verizon Wireless and Cingular Wireless say they allow customers to disable or block unwanted text messages by using a tool on their companies' Web sites.

Even though mobile operators seem to have text message spam under control, they still need to be careful that they don't annoy customers with legitimate text message marketing, experts say.

"The real problem could be text-based advertising from the carriers and their partners," said Iain Gillott, founder of iGillott Research.

"We have yet to see how consumers will react to this," he added. "Companies are still trying different models. But if customers threaten to leave, the carriers will have to stop it. The last thing they want is for people to churn."

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What planet are you from?
My dear Ms. Reardon,
everone knows that E-mail spam costs users billions of dollars.

Dear c|net editor,
please check the credentials of your contributors before allowing them to post inane remarks such as "the difference is that unlike e-mail spam, text message spam can cost users money"
Posted by El Kabong (100 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Email costs money too
You are correct. Although SMS spam is a direct cost that they can see on their wireless bill, email spam is an enourmous cost to consumers. Just because the cost of email spam is not itemized on a bill sent to email users, the cost if very real, and extremely high.
Posted by FirePig (10 comments )
Link Flag
Email is very different
Email is different from phone:

A phone has a number drawn from a very restricted pool of numbers. Your phone number is identified with you. It's difficult and costly to change a phone number each time too many spammers have it. It's not practical having more than a few cellphone numbers (you can have one per phone, perhaps two on some more expensive phones).

Email addresses are not a scarce resource like phone numbers. They are as cheap as dirt, and you can get as many as you like and a zillion more with practically no cost. You don't have to stick with one address that all the spammers in the world know. Email is an open standard and you can get tools to manage your email any way you like. You are not stuck with the limited options that came with a phone. The problem with phone spam is that once you're getting spam your options are either to block all text messages or change phone number. With email, if you plan ahead, you just block the spam and nothing else (i.e., if you plan ahead, spammers only get addresses you don't use for real important mail).

People are unable to cope with email spam only because they choose not to learn how to use email. If you use email like a phone (single address for all kinds of contacts) then you're stuck with spam!
Posted by hadaso (468 comments )
Link Flag
Why use Text Messaging at all?
If I want text, I use email. If I want to call someone, I use the phone and use that fabulously highly technical voice email thingie called ... SPEACH!

Never understood the use for text messaging on a phone. Takes more effort to type on stupid phone pads than it does to just talk.
Posted by kamwmail-cnet1 (292 comments )
Reply Link Flag
How about using that&
&"fabulously highly technical voice email thingie called" SPELL

It's spelled "SPEECH". Certainly undermines one's sarcastic tone,
doesn't it? Kinda like storming out of the room and into the broom

; )
Posted by Luncheon Meat (9 comments )
Link Flag
fabulously highly technical voice email thingie called

Posted by Luncheon Meat (9 comments )
Link Flag
Other people use it
With something like 12.5 billion text messages being sent in a month it seems most cell phone users text msg, even if you don't.

To be fair, I don't text too much either, but I know lots of people who prefer texting vs actually making phone calls..sort of like mobile IM you could say.
Posted by M A (51 comments )
Link Flag
There are many reasons.
If you think it takes a lot of effort to send a text message then I'm suprised you know how to use email. For many people its extremely easy.

If you are somewhere where you can't hear or you can send a text message. Its great for finding people in a loud night club. If you are in a quiet public place like a classroom, movie theater or meeting, text messaging is the way to go.

If you are driving and have skills. You can send text messages without even looking at your phone. Why not make a phone call, well maybe you are communicating with too many people at once. Text messaging eliminates phone tag. Email is different. Not everyone who has a cellphone has access to their email and email is much slower. Text messaging can be as fast as an IM conversation.
Posted by Akiba (220 comments )
Link Flag
The only purpose I used text messaging for is
The only purpose I used text messaging for is to send my wife the shopping list if she wants to visit the supermarket on her way home. Ususally he airtime I use to say what I want costs me less than a single text message.
Posted by hadaso (468 comments )
Link Flag
Text messageing has a very valid place in communications
I have friends (believe it or not) who abhor email; mostly due to there own paranoia and limited knowledge but hey, each to there own. Darndest thing, myself and my friends being in different professions, also don't keep the same hours day to day.

I can send an email which will never be recieved.

I can phone them directly interupting what they are doing or dreaming about during sleep.

I can send an (initial contact) text message; "Ball game tomorrow night? Call me when you can." or perhaps "Lunch at 1300 at barneys?" It then waits paciently on there primary communication device until convenient for them to read and respond not when it is convenient for me to call.

I know the text has been sent so I can put away my cell and continue with my day rather than wonder if they are home and infront of the machine and checking email regularily.

Currently, I recieve some Text Spam from my provider (member's deals and such) which I'll put up with as long as they maintain the current saturation level (1 Spam every few months).

As for more effort to type a text on a phone than to talk or email; depends on the phone.
- Yes text input on phones can be fiddley if you've only a number pad but input methods help; look into one that works for you.
- Smartphones generally have a keyboard hidden in them so you can get your blackberry thumb-typing on; maybe this would work for you better.
- Bluetooth. If it's more than two words, I leave the phone in my pocket and type out my message on my PDA which by sheer magic, routes the text out through my cell phone with that 'affor mentioned Bluetooth black magic; heck, I can write a text on my computer and bluetooth it out through my cell phone; Again, email which may or may not be recieved in the next two days or text message which will be delivered to that magical talkie box in my friends pocket.

I'm not talking hour long text conversations here (that's for irc or IM with a keyboard) but for a quick information exchange; "hey, I'm out front of the theater, you inside yet?", "honey, do we need milk?"
Posted by jabbotts (492 comments )
Link Flag
block it
I asked my provider to block any and all text messaging to my phone already. I never got any spam, but I did get a wrong-number text that I had to pay for. I don't care if it's only a dime, I shouldn't have to pay for other peoples screwups or for the more malicious bombardment of marketing this article talks about. So I'm "safe". I think text messaging is a stupid idea anyway, as it's a feraking PHONE people. Sure, it's great for deaf people, but why do hearing people care about it?

Anyway, if malicious texts for the purpose of marketing become what email has become, then the phone service providers are going to have to stop charging per text message. I sincerely doubt many people will be happy to pay up for receipt of zillions of V1agrA, mortgage or other scams or even legit ads. If you want to advertize to me, do not expect me to pay for it.
Posted by amigabill (93 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I get minimum of 7 text spam messages per day
Most of them come from my carrier which is VIRGIN MOBILE.

I am so upset!
5 of the 7 are from Virgin themselves and they come at all hours of the night and day.

I refuse to answer my cell phone as I am tired of it ringing so I just keep it off.

Posted by inachu (963 comments )
Reply Link Flag
All marketing and PR should be banned
Completely and totally and those databases of contacts should be destroyed.

Anyone caught marketing a product or service in violation of this prohibition should face jail time in a maximum security prison with violent criminals.

Marketing should not be taught in schools. Marketing should not be funded with investor or taxpayer funds.

Marketing in all forms is just bad.

Marketers, as a rule, are sociopaths.

I have no tolerance for them.

I used to work for a company that is one of the nation's largest and my position was eventually folded into their marketing arm.

I had to quit. I was raised with ethics and morals and could not, in clear conscious, work in a position which would require me to reinforce the company's spin...aka lies...regarding their products.
Posted by jachamp (84 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Maybe I should bring up the real issue....
which is...Why the hell should I have to pay for the actions of others? If some marketing company wants to send me a text message, let THEM pay for it. If some telemarketeer (and yes, I meant to spell it that way) wants to call me, let THEM pay for it.

The cell phone companies in this country have perpetrated the most heinous crime on the public I have ever seen...BILLING BOTH PARTIES FOR THE ACTIONS OF ONE PARTY. In Europe, the only party that has to pay for a cellphone call is THE PARTY WHO INITIATES THE CALL!!!!!!. And now, the cellphone companies want to perpetrate another crime on us....charging us for their marketing of third-party products.

It is time for people to throw their cellphones in the garbage and pay the extra for an UNLISTED landline. This stops most of the garbage (yet not all), and you only get billed for the calls you submit to being charged for (long distance).

If the cell companies were decimated by a mass migration away from cellphones, they would be forced to change their business models to something fairer to the public.

But that's not going to happen....too many people in this country have become too addicted to crashing their cars, talking in the middle of a movie, being loud and rude in the middle of a dining establishment, ignoring the people around them for the one-ringy-dingy, two-ringy-dingy of their phones, or just outright ignoring anyone face-to-face for the anonymity of a little tiny screen that destroys their eyes and those tiny keypads that knock their thumbs out of joint.
Posted by dragonfly8610 (49 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Here here
Couldn't have said it better myself.
Posted by a85 (104 comments )
Link Flag
I had my cell provider block text messaging
The day I received my first spam text message (about three years ago), I called my telephone company and had them block the text messaging service. If everybody else did likewise, we'd all be surprised at how quickly the communications industry would find a solution.
Posted by mh20932 (41 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Verizon ranked #1 spam enabler by
I suppose it's nice that Verizon cares so much about text message spam. It would be even better if they transferred some of that concern to e-mail spam as well. Spamhaus, a spam tracker, lists as THE #1 enabler of spam e-mail.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>

As they say on the site, "Spam continues to plague the Internet because a small number of large Internet Service Providers sell service knowingly to professional spammers for profit, or do nothing to prevent spammers operating from their networks."

Until verizon deals with this black eye, they are not a creditable source in the fight against spam of any kind.
Posted by hello47 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag, actually
got the url wrong in the title of last post. :(
Posted by hello47 (2 comments )
Link Flag
Spam=lost time and money
Spam costs in so many little ways to everyone but when you add it up, the costs turn out to be quite high. Another problem is when spammers hijack a domain name for the reply address (which happened to me).

That does not even take into account the network backbone that has to handle all of the traffic.

My opinion is very clear, and no I am not kidding, spammers should be shot on sight and the shooter should be given a medal.

Spam costs EVERYONE one way or another whethe it is text messaging or email.
Posted by SAA999 (11 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I got my first text spam last night
I'm on Cingular/ATT and both my wife and I got our first text spams last night. She got an empty message and an ad for a stock, and I just got the ad for the stock. All came from the same ID. My wife and I don't give our cell numbers out and we only text each other, so we think it was a dictionary style attack.

I called Cingular/ATT customer service today and they said they couldn't give me a credit or anything like that and the only way around it is to block text messaging. It's only 30 cents but still, I shouldn't have to pay for messages I don't want.

I live on the Gulf Coast and the reason I got text messaging 2 years ago was after Hurricane Katrina, the cell phones and landlines weren't working well or at all in many areas, and power was out so going online wasn't an option, but text messaging was still working, so I thought it would be good for emergencies.

I'd like to keep it but if spam gets out of line like it has in email, I'll have no choice but to drop it. I agree with the poster who said if everyone would drop it and let the cell phone providers know why, they'd be forced to change their business practices, i.e. not charging us to receive junk, in order to get customers back.

Even if they didn't charge customers to receive text messages, if text spamming gets to where Email spamming is now, it will still cost consumers money, even if we don't pay by the message. With the increase in traffic, cell phone companies will have to spend money upgrading their systems in order to handle all of it and who pays for those upgrades? That's right, the customers, with higher rates or if they don't want to raise prices, decreased service in other areas. Just my opinion.
Posted by RedStickHam (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag

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