Jamshed Avari | 25 November 2010
"Tired of sitting alone on Saturday night? Wanna know when you will find love of ur life? SMS LUV (ur name) to #####. Rs 3/SMS"
JAMSHED AVARI, deputy editor
For all the wonders we’ve seen this year, we’ve had to endure a number of annoyances too! Phones that become obsolete within months, Apple’s refusal to officially launch the iPad, endless delays in launching 3G and mobile number portability, and of course the everyday trauma of seeing ridiculous claims in advertisements that push the limits of all common sense. But more than anything, it’s the gross misuse of some products and services that get to me. This year will be remembered as the year SMS spam truly got out of hand. I’ve read up a bit on the SMS industry and the various cost models that apply. The simple fact is that the economics work in favor of the spammer; almost approaching the level of cost effectiveness of email spam.
If the messages I receive are any indication, whatever databases do exist out there are in a total mess, and spammers have no clue who they’re actually reaching. Still, shooting arrows in the dark like this must count for something, because enough time has passed for clients to have generated solid analytics. There’s been no reduction in volume, which probably shows that the spammers are getting enough mileage out of their “investments” to justify continuing—no matter how many others are harassed in the process.
I get at least five a day, and it’s hard not to automatically reach for my phone when it beeps because of the very nature of SMS messages and the nagging feeling that the message could be a friend or colleague who needs something urgently. Less than one message per week is even remotely useful to me, possibly an advertisement for some sale or discount (which I might even have deliberately signed up for). The variety of messages received this week alone is astonishing: fake stock market tips, supposedly hot deals on property, astrologers’ consultations on my marriage prospects, obvious money-laundering scams, guaranteed weight loss programs, restaurants opening in other cities, “Japani technology” to increase my height, Spice Girls wallpaper (really?!) and, most notably, a notice that a small-time consumer brand’s product placement deal would be visible in action at a particular time that evening. If those weren’t aggravating enough, a new one pops up every so often offering me discounted rates on bulk SMS gateway services!
So what are the rates like? A quick Google search (and consultation of the aforementioned message) shows that at least one database claiming to be of 30 lakh Mumbai numbers is being offered for Rs 6,000 only. The higher the volume, the lower the overall cost—which apparently now works out to a fraction of a paisa per recipient. At prices like that, no wonder spammers don’t care about precise targeting.
The Government hasn’t been able to institute any penalty serious enough to discourage those abusing its national Do Not Call registry, not that the registry itself seems particularly effective. I attempted to join in January this year by following the instructions on the official website (http://ndncregistry.gov.in). I received an immediate reply saying my request confirmation details would be sent to me soon. Nothing ever came of it; no confirmation, no details, and certainly no reduction in the volume of spam. Repeated checks on the website show that my number is not part of the registry, and further “START DND” messages to 1909 fail to be delivered.
What's next, paid spam filters? It's sad that lower costs have caused so much grief.