Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Predatory cellphone scamming

From MSNBC: Price for 'premium' text messages? $10,000.

Watching Degrassi and other teen dramas on "The N", I see ads for these services all the time. They offer music, jokes, games, horoscopes, etc., through text messaging. What's not very apparent from the advertising, however, is the cost. Not only do the messages cost more than your typical text message, but the messages are part of a subscription service that will keep billing you until you manage to unsubscribe. There's a bit of fine print on the screen to that effect - though it's really hard to read it on my TV for the brief period it's up - but that's it.

This is not legitimate business. It's predation, plain and simple, and there are too many businesses out there that could easily put a stop to it but don't, because they get a share of the profits. The cell phone companies could allow account holders to opt out of these premium messages, but they don't, because they get a share of the revenue. The cable companies or networks (I'm not sure who the advertising is being bought from) could refuse to sell ads which are meant to scam kids, but they don't want to lose revenue either.

In the various discussions of this, there's generally an attitude out there that the people who get suckered by this deserve to be bilked, because they're (presumably) not as smart as the commenter. It strikes me as very similar to some of the other "social libertarian" attitudes common to (young, white, male) geekdom - that wealth ideally correlates with intelligence, and that the scammer does the world a favor by parting fools from their money.

Maybe this case will mobilize some consumer activists or legislators to get this under control. Or at the very least, I could see a class action suit arising from this.

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