How protected are we against mobile predators?
Waspa has increased measures to protect the consumer against being hoodwinked into a service they don't need, says Anzelle Robertson, legal and compliance officer at Oxygen8.
With the daily increase of SMSes and apps on our mobile phones tempting us to engage, how vulnerable are we to rogues and predators out to fleece us of our rands and cents?
Anzelle Robertson, Legal and Compliance Officer at Oxygen8, global provider of integrated mobile solutions, comments: "As far as self-regulation and legislation goes in South Africa, we run a very tight ship. The Wireless Application Providers' Association (WASPA) monitors the mobile industry along with their members, and has recently increased measures to protect the consumer."
WASPA wears two caps - it acts as a watchdog on behalf of the industry, but also on behalf of the consumer.
Combating rogue operators
The recent WhatsApp 'scam', where consumers inadvertently added a potential R200 per month to their phone bill for add-on services, created a lot of fear in the industry. This occurs when consumers, who may be distracted at the time, fail to notice the pricing information which, in accordance with regulatory requirements, is always displaced immediately adjacent to the button that initiates the next step in the sign-up process (known as the "call to action").
Should one be worried? Yes and no, says Robertson. "Some companies send out thousands of SMSes based on the assumption that a percentage of people will not read the pricing information and subscribe regardless."
Robertson adds: "All the full members of WASPA, who are mostly mobile aggregators like ourselves and the affiliate members, who use the services of the full members to bill for content, are very compliance-aware and constantly strive to adhere to the regulations and code of conduct."
Aggregators, which provide their clients with a billing mechanism for content in exchange for airtime, have "binds" or pipes into the network operators and are required by the networks' respective contracts to remain members of WASPA in good standing.
Robertson says all these providers are well schooled in the rules and regulations of WASPA to ensure all services that go out to the public are fully compliant. "So much so that at Oxygen8, we have a dedicated internal compliance team, also comprising an attorney that checks all marketing material against the code of conduct, to ensure that all is in order and compliant."
An example, she says, is that you need to ensure the pricing information in a communiqu'e is next to the call-to-action button, so that consumers are well aware of the amount they are paying. "It can't be hidden away at the bottom of the page.
"Compliance is core to our business and we act as gatekeepers and watchdogs for our clients, the consumer and industry at large," says Robertson. "Many of our clients are based overseas and are not familiar with local regulatory requirements, which is why we offer comprehensive regulatory and compliance advice as part-and-parcel of our service to them."
Scenarios that challenge compliancy
Robertson paints a picture of scenarios where material may be considered to be non-compliant. Sometimes, if an aggregator does not have sufficient internal compliance procedures, content can slip through that does not follow the code of conduct. "This can be picked up by a consumer or the association, and the issues need to be addressed very quickly."
The second scenario of non-compliance that may arise is when there is a difference in interpretation between the service provider and WASPA. "In this situation where there is a disagreement, WASPA has a procedure in place which follows the lines of a formal complaint being lodged, a formal response and the engagement of a third party to adjudicate the results," says Robertson.
"This interaction is very healthy and progressive. As service providers, we need to be as skillful as possible to find that balance between compliancy and the freedom for our clients to market creatively," she adds.
Four layers of safety
Robertson says consumers can rest assured the regulatory climate requires quadruple safety walls to protect them. "The first layer of security is consumer education and the mandatory inclusion of such clauses as terms and conditions, pricing and helpline," says Robertson. "The second layer is the completion of the network hosted confirmation step, which requires that an end-user confirm his/her request for the subscription service directly with his/her relevant network operator. Without this confirmation, it is physically impossible for any aggregator to bill a consumer's mobile account.
"The third safety measure is the requirement that a message confirming the subscription is sent immediately after a user has subscribed. This message will always start with the word, 'Welcome' and will contain the pricing information and instructions on how to unsubscribe," says Robertson.
The fourth regulatory requirement that protects the consumer is that, once a month, the service provider has to send out a subscription reminder, which contains easy opt-out instructions, thereby preventing ad infinitum billing.
Robertson says with all these measures in place, the consumer is truly protected, but she warns against rogue operators whose objective is to hoodwink the consumer into a service they don't really need or want. "Slow down and carefully read the text before clicking the 'next' or 'acceptance' buttons," concludes Robertson.
Note: Anzelle Roberton is an attorney of the High Court of the Republic of South Africa and telecommunications-compliance specialist. She is a graduate of the University of the North West, where she obtained her LLB degree in 2009.
Bringing with her nearly four years' experience in civil and commercial litigation, Robertson joined Oxygen8 South Africa in 2012 as Legal and Compliance Officer, advising the company and its clients on the regulatory requirements and statutory framework governing the South African mobile payment and VAS industry.