x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Protect customers from SMS spam

The fuss about unsolicited SMS adverts and messages reveals the need for law to simplify the rules and protect consumers.

Last week, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the UAE's Minister of Foreign Affairs, tweeted his irritation about receiving a continuous stream of unwanted texts, promoting a variety of services and products to which he was not subscribed. The overwhelming response should have made uncomfortable reading for the country's telecom providers and brand marketers.

To be sure, this is not a practice restricted to this region. According to survey conducted by YouGov and released in February, two-thirds of adults in the US and UK say they would unsubscribe from a brand's promotions if they thought they were receiving an excessive number of messages, while 27 per cent in the UK and 20 per cent in the US said they would stop using the brand's product or service.

There are no corresponding numbers for the UAE, but it is a safe bet that the majority of mobile users here would share similar sentiments. However, unlike in the US and the UK, the UAE does not have strong data protection or privacy legislation to protect consumers, and companies continue to spam mobile users with advertisements and notifications.

Offending companies are often legally covered. As one marketing manager told The National, customers are provided the option of unsubscribing to a service at any stage by sending a four-digit code back to any of the messages they receive. However, sometimes unsubscribing can cost money. Worse still, not all messages come with the opt-out option and not all companies are transparent about buying or selling databases with the consent of the individuals on them. So customers who feel they are being taken advantage of will in all likelihood have no idea exactly who is selling their information.

It remains a mystery why marketers are unaware of the damage these tactics can do to their brands. People here, like their western counterparts, may abandon these brands if their privacy continues to be invaded. For now, SMS spammers continue to bombard the public without fear of legal recourse. For mobile users, however, the day the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) implements a unified data protection law in the UAE cannot come soon enough.