Johannesburg - In October I asked the major networks what they were doing to protect their subscribers’ pre-paid airtime and bills from being “attacked” by Wasps – wireless application service providers – who trade in monthly subscriptions for “content”, which is mostly frivolous extras, from ringtones to adult content.
For years, cellphone users have complained that they’ve been “stung” by daily or weekly charges for a subscription they didn’t agree to.
The Wasps piggy-back on the networks to gain access to their subscribers’ airtime and accounts and the networks get paid a cut for providing the service, which leaves many of those claiming not to have requested or consented to the content feeling betrayed and angry.
Finally, in about a year, the networks started to acknowledge the problem and used technology to protect their customers.
I discovered MTN was the only network that allowed subscribers to block all unknown billing, by dialling *141*5# and following instructions.
But I was recently alerted to the fact that the total block facility no longer exists.
In its place, since last month, is what the network calls token-based billing (TBB), which, as with Vodacom’s double opt-in service, means no Wasp subscription will be activated by MTN unless the subscriber approves it.
“The subscriber’s ability to block content was an interim measure that MTN put in place until a time that our TBB solution was implemented in December, which gives MTN customers full control of managing their services,” an MTN spokesman told Consumer Watch.
By keying in *141*5#, MTN subscribers can see which Wasp service they are being billed for and terminate it if they want to.
In its press release about the introduction of this new protection, MTN didn’t mince its words about rogue Wasps.
TBB was intended to “address simmering distress experienced by its customers who claim that they are being unwittingly billed for content services they have not subscribed for by unscrupulous Wasps”, the network said.
Many customers “unknowingly clicked on a link or URL which automatically triggered an unsolicited subscription”, MTN said, adding that TBB would prevent that happening.
“This will shelter our customers from unscrupulous service providers who ruin the experience of our unsuspecting customers.
We are confident that this service will help clamp down on this malpractice and give our valued customers the peace of mind of knowing that the integrity of their account is safeguarded,” said MTN’s chief enterprise business officer, Kanagaratnam Lambotharan.
Let’s hope so. Spread the word.
For the past two years, Vodacom has provided its subscribers with its own double opt-in protection.
The network sends them confirmation of the Wasp service details, including pricing information, and they have to confirm the service request before they get subscribed to the services.
This has “dramatically” reduced the number of Wasp billing queries from subscribers disputing the subscription, says Vodacom spokesman Richard Boorman.
I can certainly vouch for that, I can’t remember the last time I got such billing complaints from a subscriber.
The network also allows its subscribers to cancel all unknown services already activated on their accounts, by texting “Stop All” to 30333. There’s a 24-hour turnaround time. This doesn’t block future billing, it just cancels existing ones.
Cell C’s double opt-in facility went live last month. Any new service activation by a wasp now requires authorisation from the customer before Cell C can go ahead.
Subscribers can also check whether they are subscribed to any Wasp services by dialling *133*1#. This USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Services Data) menu also provides them with the ability to deactivate or blacklist Wasp services.
* If you have a complaint about a Wasp, lodge it at http://www.waspa.org.za/code/complaint.shtml.
Another way to block texts for such content – and all other direct marketing approaches – is to register your details on the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) of South Africa’s national opt-out list - www.nationaloptout.co.za/
But it won’t stop all Wasps – only those who have been chosen to be DMA members. - The Star