HOW TO AVOID UNSOLICITED MESSAGES

The growth in the use of telemarketing has been accompanied by an enormous increase in the amount of unsolicited commercial text messages or what is now popularly referred to as “unsolicited messages”.

Unsolicited messaging can be defined “as the practice of the indiscriminate distribution of messages without the permission of the receiver and without consideration for the message’s appropriateness”.

Unsolicited messages can be used to perpetrate fraud, which has become a significant problem for consumers. One form of this phenomenon is premium unsolicited messages – the unlawful practice of sending premium content and charging consumers for third-party services such as ringtones and recurring text messages containing trivia or horoscopes without their knowledge or consent.

The Text and Multimedia messaging guidelines exclude peer to peer messaging, and announcements of a public nature such as disease outbreaks and alerts, service failure broadcasts, disasters or even closed user group communications by an organisation to its employees from this classification. 

The Uganda Communications Commission requires every service provider to implement a functional, prominent, precise and efficient unsubscribe or opt-out facility to enable a customer to send a notification to the service provider barring further unwanted messages to the customer from the respective service provider or specific application.

Section 5 (k) of the Uganda Communications Act provides for the Commission to promote and safeguard the interests of consumers and operators as regards the quality of communications services.

Sometime back, after unsolicited messages had become a public nuisance, the Commission required all persons engaged in SMS (short messaging service) based value-added services, including network operators, aggregators, content providers or SMS application providers, to ensure that their communication is sent out to only persons that have subscribed for such information, and to have an opt-out clause or unsubscribe mechanism for persons no longer wishing to receive such messages.

To facilitate the ease of using the opt-out service, the Commission designated a uniform code 196 to be used across all the mobile networks to ensure that on using *196#, a customer can “opt-out” of receiving any messages, including unsolicited promotional messages. The 196 code replaced the individual codes used by the different service providers.

Any person who receives messages that they have not subscribed for or receives messages after opting out of the service is requested to bring this to the attention of their service provider and [if the practice persists] notify the Commission so that action can be taken accordingly.

Customers who chose not to receive ‘ANY’ messages subject to applicable exemptions as outlined in the Text and Multi-media Messaging guidelines can register their number(s) on the ‘Do Not Disturb’ list with their various service providers. As such, the 196 platforms of all operators allow you to deactivate all messages.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU RECEIVE UNSOLICITED SMS

Reply ‘STOP’ or use *196# to opt-out. Keep the message to make a complaint in case the messages persist, and report it to your operator.

WHAT TO DO IF CHARGED FOR UNSOLICITED SMS

Use the *196# code of the content supplier to stop the messages. Call the content supplier’s helpline about the charges and confirm they stopped the service. You also have the option to text back ‘STOP’ to the number included in the message.

You should receive a message from the content supplier confirming the cancellation of the service. Complaints about the billing of unsolicited messages should be directed, in the ­first instance, to your mobile phone service provider. In the event your complaint remains unresolved, contact the Uganda Communications Commission on 0800 222 777 or visit our website at http://www.ucc.co.ug and file a formal complaint.

WHY UNSUBSCRIBE WHEN YOU DID NOT CONSENT RECEIVING MESSAGES IN THE FIRST PLACE?

Some message senders are legitimate businesses sending unsolicited commercial messages as a result of a previous business engagement you may not currently be aware of. Using the unsubscribe facility *196# is the most efficient way to ensure the messages stop. You can make a complaint to the Commission if the unsolicited messages persist.

I REPLIED ‘STOP’ TO AN SMS MESSAGE AND USED THE CODE *196# AS PER THE INSTRUCTIONS, BUT I HAVE CONTINUED TO RECEIVE THE SAME MESSAGE. WHAT CAN I DO?

If you continue to receive SMS messages after opting out, keep the messages and make a complaint to your service provider. If it remains unresolved, register a complaint with the Commission.  We are more than willing to help.

WHY SHOULD I MAKE A COMPLAINT?

Complaints and reports on unsolicited SMS activity to the regulator are an integral part of unsolicited SMS investigations. Without assistance from the public, the regulator would be limited in its capacity to ­fight them. The Commission’s complaints handling guidelines indicate how complaints are handled.

HOW CAN I STOP UNSOLICITED SMS FROM TELECOMMUNICATIONS COMPANIES?

Use the *196# code to stop the messages. You may also call the content supplier’s helpline to confirm they stopped the messages. You also have the option to write to your telecommunications service provider clearly stating you do not wish to receive any unsolicited SMS messages. As a last resort, you can request to have your number on the Do Not Disturb (DND) list. However, having your number on the DND will deprive you of important messages such as bank alerts, electricity service provider’s alerts, etc.

Nevertheless, messaging, just like social media, when used appropriately, offers a cost-effective medium to build better relationships with customers than is possible with traditional media marketing. Short Messaging Services (SMS) and Multimedia Messaging Services today offer companies the abilities to expand their customer reach, target specific communities and communicate as well as interact with customers in a highly customised manner.

In the last few years, SMS has emerged as an essential communications tool to build and maintain closer relationships with customers as well as prospects. It has become popular with some companies as it dramatically minimises the costs associated with other conventional methods of communication.

Interestingly, one would expect that businesses ought to know better than sending unwanted messages, which is widely considered an unethical communication practice. Aggrieved consumers need to make it known to their service providers by denying them business and taking it elsewhere. Unsolicited messages do not only violate personal privacy, but the volume of messages consumes time and effort of recipients. Besides, the messages are usually irrelevant and sometimes deceptive or even offensive and may target vulnerable customers, let alone causing financial loss.

Section 26 of the ELECTRONIC TRANSACTIONS ACT 2011, on SPAM SMS AND PHONE CALLS requires a person providing a “commercial communication” to provide it at no cost and to allow a consumer to cancel (unsubscribe). This section of the law makes it an offence to send unsolicited commercial communication after unsubscribing.

The Electronic Transactions law also requires the sender of unsolicited messages to identify the particular source from which that person obtained the consumer’s personal information if requested by the consumer. The law also provides that a person who fails to comply with or contravenes the said section commits an offence and shall be liable, on conviction, to a fine not exceeding seventy-two currency points or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years, or both.

It further states that a person who sends unsolicited commercial communications to a person who has advised the sender that such communications are unwelcome commits an offence and is liable, on conviction, to a fine not exceeding seventy-two currency points or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years, or both.

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