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Regulators clampdown on rogue mobile services
(31/08/2010 11:27:42)

PhonepayPlus, the UK organisation that regulates premuim services is setting out new measures to help protect mobile users from unscrupulous content providers.

The regulator reported a 108 per cent jump in the number of mobile-related complaints received in the past year, and has consulted with various stakeholders in the market to address the problem. PhonepayPlus has published a final statement (PDF), which lays out guidelines to help reduce customer complaints and rebuild trust in the services.
According to the newly appointed chief executive of PhonepayPlus, Paul Whiteing, "These new measures are targeted at a small number of providers who do not offer services to customers in a fair and straightforward way".

PhonepayPlus has also issued a Statement of Expectation (PDF) as a summary to help service providers comply with the new regulations.

The complaints cover a wide array of bad practices including companies tricking the public into phoning numbers with huge charges, to hiding critical information in the fine print and automatically renewing subscriptions as a default.
To curb these practices they have issued new guidelines. As per the new guidelines users must first send a free confirmation text message to potential new customers, detailing the cost and conditions of the service, before they can become subscribed. Consumers cannot be charged until they have confirmed the subscription by replying to the text. Meanwhile, providers offering mobile subscription services that cost more than £4.50 in any given week, or those that use pay-per-page charges on the mobile internet, must first gain permission from PhonepayPlus.
The guidelines also include stipulations that price information must be clearly displayed, and the providers sending free promotional messages must make it clear how to opt out of receiving similar messages in the future. Providers offering subscription services or sending promotional text messages must also enable consumers to easily opt out of the service via the 'stop' command.

PhonepayPlus said that, while many people use these services without any unwanted occurrence, the organisation has seen a sharp increase in complaints, and said that some individual cases have involved unwanted bills of thousands of pounds. "There are many innovative, useful and fun services available to consumers via their mobiles," said Paul Whiteing, Acting Chief Executive at PhonepayPlus.

Overall, the aim of the new code is to strengthen prior permission so that providers offering mobile subscription services charging over £4.50 in any given week or applying pay-per-page charges on the mobile Internet must first apply for permission from PhonepayPlus.

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