Mobile spam: Here to stay?

Mobile spam: Here to stay?

Lorcan Burke
Lorcan Burke is a 20 year veteran of telecoms. He started his career with Nortel and later
served as CTO of FirstMark Communications, a pioneer in the delivery of broadband internet
services in Europe. Prior to founding AdaptiveMobile Lorcan was an investor with ETF Group
specialising in the wireless and security markets.

Marketeers are starting to use our mobile phones as a marketing channel. That could be perceived by many subscribers as an unwelcome intrusion. And handling spam, says Lorcan Burke, gives operators a real opportunity to differentiate themselves …

Amobile phone is a very personal device, and we consider mobile telephony to be a very private medium of communication. For this reason, mobile numbers are often treated with discretion – much more so, in fact, than email addresses.

Yet many mobile users have received unsolicited mobile spam in the form of a text message (SMS), picture message (MMS) or video message (VMS). Some try to sell an ‘unmissable’ item or service, with the ultimate objective of having subscribers call a premium rate number. Some are not commercially focused, and can be threatening or offensive, but all have one thing in common – they are intrusive and unwelcome.

While it is fairly easy to implement spam filters on emails, mobiles are extremely vulnerable to mobile spam. In fact, they are completely dependent on the network operator to manage unwanted communications. The conflict here is that, in most cases, the operator is gaining revenue from the spam – and so has no incentive to protect the subscriber unless they complain.

Adding to the subscriber’s frustration is that one of the worst offenders when

it comes to mobile spam could be the network itself. Couple this with the fact that some mobile operators are actively encouraging spam by supplying content and application providers with their users’ mobile phone numbers, and the only way out for a subscriber sick of spam and resentful of their network supplier is to switch to an operator that takes their right to privacy seriously.


Worlds apart

Middle Eastern and Asia Pacific operators thus far have been at the forefront of implementing security and protection measures for their subscribers. Most recently, Etisalat, the leading telecommunications company based in the United Arab Emirates, announced it will launch a new anti-spam service that provides its customers with additional protection against the inconvenience caused by spam received from overseas sources.
It is fairly easy to implement spam filters on emails, but
mobiles are extremely vulnerable to mobile spam …

The product identifies any international incoming SMS traffic considered as spam that could impact Etisalat’s 6m customers and cause any degradation of the quality of service delivered by the network.

Operators in the Middle East have seen the benefits of a network-centric approach. In the UK it is a different scenario.

At the beginning of March it was reported that the Mobile Broadband Group, consisting of the UK’s top six mobile operators, had urged the Government to implement stricter guidelines for handset manufacturers to protect vulnerable subscribers from harmful websites on the mobile internet. It is encouraging to see operators lobbying parliament and working closer with manufacturers in a legislative context to protect their subscribers, but providing security via the handset is very complex and reliant on the end user.

A handset manufacturer can only install software that protects from threats known at the time of production. Similar to PC security, threats are constantly evolving and new anti-virus (AV) patches constantly need to be installed. Can you imagine offering your customers AV software in-store? And how do you think they will react if you tell them they need to use a large proportion of their monthly GPRS allowance to download AV patches to their phones, not even mentioning the fact that it will sap the phone’s battery life? I doubt they will be very impressed.

If an operator, however, offers security over the network, the user does not have to waste a second worrying about security and spam on their mobiles. Tools are now available that can provide customer protection across all mobile technologies, threats and media types. This includes protection against illegal or inappropriate content, viruses and malware, unsolicited messaging and unauthorised communications. It allows mobile operators to offer parental controls to protect minors, and to extend corporate security policies through to mobile assets. It works across all mobile services (WAP, SMS, MMS, email), all forms of access (including GPRS, 3G, WiFi, WiMAX) and for all media, including mobile internet, images, music, voice and video.


Which operator will you push?

With mobile security issues on the rise, UK operators will soon market themselves as ‘secure providers’ to gain competitive edge. And which operator offering do you think your customers will choose; one which gets them to do extra work, provides a questionable level of protection and costs them more money – or the simple one, which offers them overall protection without them having to lift a finger? Simplicity is the marketing message for many operators. The same should be true for security.
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