x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Sheikh Abdullah complains about Etisalat spam

After being bombarded by unsolicited text messages for two days, the minister turned to Twitter to voice his frustration with the telecoms operator.

ABU DHABI // Consumers unhappy with Etisalat customer service have a high-profile champion - the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed.

After being bombarded by unsolicited text messages for two days, the minister turned to Twitter to voice his frustration with the telecoms operator.

And his regular tweets prompted responses from the telecoms regulator, and Etisalat itself.

Sheikh Abdullah began receiving a stream of text messages at the start of the week, offering content alerts for which he had not signed up.

He shared his first tweet at 10.06pm on Sunday: "I just received this message now: 'Dear customer, thank you for subscribing to Reuters breaking news service. You will soon receive the latest updates straight from Reuters to your phone'. I didn't subscribe."

Two minutes later he tweeted: "My apologies to Etisalat but I will tweet every message or service that I get from them until they put an end to this inconvenience."

At one point, Sheikh Abdullah messaged the telecoms operator directly on Twitter and asked them to resolve the issue - not only for himself, but for every other customer affected.

"Our team is working on solving the problem since your first tweet was received," read the Twitter response from Etisalat. "It will be resolved soon. Thanks for the cooperation of your Highness."

Nevertheless, according to Sheikh Abdullah's Twitter feed, the spam was still arriving almost 17 hours later. Not even an intervention by the chief executive of Etisalat, Saleh Al Abdooli, could "stop the inconvenience", the minister said.

As the spam text messages continued, apparently from various news providers, so did his tweets. And his more than 190,000 Twitter followers responded with a flood of encouragement, saying this was a recurring problem. "Everyone suffers," tweeted Mariam Bint Mohammed.

As a result, customer service at Etisalat has been under fire on Twitter. Two Arabic hashtags - content-filtering tags, specific to Twitter - were created: "And Etisalat continues the annoyance" and "God protect us from Etisalat's excellence".

The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) said a policy on unsolicited electronic communications had been in place since 2009.

"Any customer who has signed with the telecom operator before December 30, 2009, has the option to opt out of such services," said Fintan Healy, the executive director of the TRA.

"If you had the service before the policy was issued then you will receive the messages. However, if you joined an operator after the issuance, you would have to apply for them before you can receive such messages," he said.

Mr Healy said the TRA had been following the tweets and monitoring the situation. "In the case of Sheikh Abdullah, it is possible that he has been with the operator since before the policy was created therefore he was receiving them automatically," he said. "However, one of his tweets suggests that he opted out."

Mr Healy said any complaints from customers were registered by the TRA and operators were given a warning and reminded of the TRA policy. If the problem persisted they would be fined, he said.

Etisalat said yesterday: "We have been liaising with His Excellency's office and all concerns are resolved."

Sheikh Abdullah has not so far tweeted about any further problems.

amustafa@thenational.ae

How to unsubscribe:

According to Etisalat, to unsubscribe from an unwanted text service, SMS the letter ‘B’ followed by the four-digit code from the message sender and text it to 1011.

Follow the same steps if you are a du subscriber, but send the message to 7726.

- This version corrects a quote attributed to Fintan Healy, the executive director of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority. He referred to a policy on unsolicited electronic information that was issued on 30 December 2009, not 2008.