Visit wrong site and your number’s up for grabs
subscribing cellphone users to services, including adult content. The breaches of Waspa’s code of conduct were “flagrant and extreme”.
Waspa is a self-regulatory body representing providers of mobile-based services, also known as “wasps”.
The impact of the suspension is an effective shutting down of a division of the company’s business and means mobile network providers must suspend all Infobip’s services with immediate effect.
Mobile network providers derive significant revenue from partnerships with wasps, where they take a cut of the money that wasps make from their subscribers.
The suspension of Infobip follows an investigation by Waspa’s Media Monitor, which routinely monitors members for compliance. In a report to Waspa management this week, Media Monitor says it picked up two cases of auto-subscription – “when a consumer is subscribed to a subscription service without actually asking or consenting to be subscribed to this service” – which included adult content.
There were no warnings to the consumer that the service was for adult content, “nor was there any reference to the fact that this was a subscription service, nor were pricing and billing shown to the user, nor were there terms and conditions visible”, the report states.
The report says the user of the cellphone would not have known that he/she was being subscribed to a subscription service because “the network confirmation page – the page generated by the mobile network operator – was not visible to the user… and so clearly (the user) could not click on it to subscribe to the service”.
A welcome message was received by the consumer in both cases, which was the first time that the consumer became aware they had just been subscribed to a subscription service.
“There is little doubt these are good examples of a cynical and criminal attempt to make money at the expense of the consumer,” the report to Waspa said.
The report added that it appeared from the evidence the cellphone number of the user can be harvested from the consumer without their knowledge or consent, simply by the consumer browsing a particu- lar website.
“In other words, the consumer would probably wonder how the subscription service was able to know which cellphone to bill for the subscription service as the consumer never typed their cellphone number into a text field on the website.”
This “insidious” gathering of your cellphone number, regarded as personal information, intrudes on a consumer’s right to privacy, the report said.
Describing the suspension of Infobip as “a slam dunk”, Dominic Cull, a lawyer specialising in regulatory compliance, said the breaches by Infobip were extremely serious and probably also a breach of the Films and Publications Act.
Waspa would be able to quantify the extent of the damage and had the power to order Infobip to refund consumers.
Mark Heyink, an information attorney and an information security consultant, said the harvesting of consumers’ accounts was an infringement of the constitutional right to privacy. “If the government wasn’t so lax about getting an information regulator in place, consumers could complain to such a regulator,” he said.
Infobip had not responded to questions put to it by Weekend Argus at the time of publication last night.