Pretoria - I continue to get e-mails from readers expressing outrage at having discovered a “content” charge on their cellphone bills for a subscription to some “value-added” service they insist they did not agree to.
These third-party companies, which get subscribers’ money via an agreement with the networks, are called wireless application service providers, or Wasps.
Of course, subscribers aren’t party to these behind-the-scenes agreements, in terms of which the networks add the cost of these add-ons to subscribers’ bills, or whip the amounts off their pre-paid balances.
That’s after they have added their “cut” for providing the billing service, of course.
As with disputed debit orders, the onus is on the company receiving the funds to prove that a contract exists – in other words, that the consumer agreed to the service.
And that’s where it gets tricky. Pushed to produce such proof, Wasps generally provide highly technical “logs” as proof that the consumer accepted an offer for a subscription to a ringtone or daily horoscope, games or whatever, by making a click on their cellphones or computers.
But the average consumer does not have the means to contest the legitimacy of such “proof”.
In such cases, Waspa – the Wireless Application Service Providers Association – can be approached to investigate the complaint. See the details on the right.
Waspa’s code of conduct requires members to do a “double opt-in” – requiring subscribers to confirm their agreement to being subscribed to a certain service at a certain daily or weekly price – but many have continued to flout this.
The good news is that the networks are stepping up and offering their subscribers more Wasp protection themselves, to varying degrees.
MTN, for example, now provides its subscribers with a means to block all Wasp billings from their accounts, although it appears that there isn’t widespread awareness of this.
How providers are protecting you:
The network offers its subscribers a simple way to block Wasp billings from their accounts.
Dial *141*5# and select option 2, content billing.
You will be informed of your content billing status, which can be changed to stop billing. Interestingly, the default setting is to allow Wasp billing: “All content purchases are authorised on your account.”
For about two years, Vodacom has provided subscribers with its own “double opt-in” protection.
The network sends customers Wasp service details, including pricing information, and they have to confirm before they get subscribed to any Wasp services.
This has “dramatically” reduced the number of Wasp billing queries from subscribers, says Vodacom spokesman Richard Boorman.
The network also allows its subscribers to cancel all Wasp services which are already activated on their accounts by texting “Stop All” to 30333. There is a 24-hour turnaround time. This doesn’t block future Wasp billing, it just cancels existing ones.
“The concern is that outright blocks of all ‘value-added’ services also limit customers’ ability to access popular services such as tracking services and m-pesa,” Boorman said.
Vodacom subscribers can check if there is any Wasp billing on their account at www.vodacom.co.za. Click on My Vodacom on the left, then My Services, then “Wasp Services”.
Last August I asked the network if it was considering offering subscribers a “double opt-in” such as that offered by Vodacom, or any other form of Wasp protection.
The response was: “We are in the process of evaluating a technical solution for a double opt-in service for implementation late this year or early 2013. This solution is aimed at further protecting our customers from wrongfully being billed for subscription services.”
That clearly hasn’t happened yet. When I asked the network about Wasp protection recently, I was told: “Cell C is in a process of implementing a double opt-in solution which will allow customers to protect themselves against illegal or unauthorised billing on their accounts. Testing of this service is under way and we hope to have a full launch in December.”
Telkom Mobile has not had an option for Wasps to charge for subscription services, but with “event billing’s” imminent launch, the network will introduce a double opt-In service, requiring customers to confirm they would like to subscribe to the service offered by a Wasp before Telkom Mobile can bill them for the subscription. Telkom Mobile customers will also have the option to contact the call centre to cancel their subscription.
They will then receive a SMS notification to confirm the subscription has been cancelled.
l If you have a complaint against a Wasp, lodge it with Waspa at http://www.waspa.org.za/code/complaint.shtml.
Another way to block SMSes and MMSes for Wasp content – and all other direct marketing approaches – is to register your details on the Direct Marketing Association of SA’s national opt-out list. But it won’t stop all Wasps – only those that have chosen to be DMA members.
Visit https://www.nationaloptout.co.za. - Pretoria News
* Mail Wendy Knowler at [email protected]