Visit wrong site and your num­ber’s up for grabs

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS -

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.

an­gelique.arde@inl.co.za

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