Spamming by Text Message On the Rise E-mail spam is an annoyance of modern life, but now spam is creeping onto mobile phones. This year, there's more of it than ever before, which has many in the industry on high alert. How much gets through to cell phones, and why is it even more annoying than e-mail spam, and what are wireless carriers doing to block it?
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Spamming by Text Message On the Rise

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Spamming by Text Message On the Rise

Spamming by Text Message On the Rise

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On Mondays we look at technology, and today we zero in on spam, those unwanted messages that fill up your e-mail inbox with ads for hot stock tips and herbal remedies and whatever. They're now creeping into mobile phones. And this year there's more mobile phone spam than ever before.

Cyrus Farivar reports.

CYRUS FARIVAR: Estan Bond is a 22-year-old Web designer in Palo Alto, California. He and his friends text each other all the time. But some of his texts are spam, just like in his e-mail. It's starting to bug him.

Mr. ESTAN BOND (Web Designer): I mean, my phone is something that goes everywhere with me, so if someone sends me a text message I'm generally expecting it to be something that requires my attention. Like e-mail doesn't require my attention as much. So when I (unintelligible) oh wait, I've got a text message, and it interrupts whatever conversation I'm having, which it probably shouldn't.

FARIVAR: The thing with mobile span is that it feels more personal than e-mail spam. Estan Bond loves texting because it's a quick and easy way to communicate.

Mr. BOND: I'll open it up and it'll be like, oh great, it's spam on my phone. As if I didn't have to deal with enough of this on my e-mail. Now I have to deal with it on my phone as well.

FARIVAR: Mobile spam isn't just annoying, it can get expensive. Most Americans pay per text, regardless of whether it's spam or real. That means if you get a spam text you're likely paying a few cents before you check out that too good to be true offer. And the number of spam text messages is going up.

Mark Donovan analyses the mobile industry for M:Metrics.

Mr. MARK DONOVAN (Analyst, M:Metrics): In the month of January about 12 million people received a text message from a company they hadn't given permission for. That's double the number who had received such kind of mobile spam in the last 12 months. And it is something that is affecting maybe 12 million people now, but it's on the rise at a faster rate than mobile marketing with text message overall.

FARIVAR: There are lots of people who sign up to get text messages from companies or organizations. For example, many political campaigns text their supporters. You can subscribe to, say, text messages from the Obama campaign. You'll get a text message at the end of every primary to tell you who won. It's not spam because you signed up to be part of the network.

You can also sign up for weather and news alerts from other Web sites. Analysts like Richi Jennings of Ferris Research note that while spam messages are expected to increase, they represent a relatively small percentage of texts.

Mr. RICHI JENNINGS (Ferris Research): The sort of numbers we've been estimating for 2008 are something like one and a half billion messages, but that's over the whole year. And of course that's spread over the large number of cell phone subscribers in the U.S.

FARIVAR: 1.5 billion spam text messages sounds like a lot, but Jennings estimates that this represents less than 1 percent of all texts sent in the U.S. Most mobile phone companies filtered out spam. Sprint spokesperson Stephanie Walsh...

Ms. STEPHANIE WALSH (Sprint): In an average 24-hour time period, literally millions of text messages are sent across our networks. And on average roughly more than 65 percent of the total number of text messages sent over the Sprint nationwide network are identified and blocked by our filters as spam.

FARIVAR: She added that Sprint has sent cease and desist letters to the worst offenders. A spokesperson for Verizon said that it has filed lawsuits against spammers who abuse its network. And a New Jersey state anti-mobile spam law went into effect this month, making it the first of its kind in the country.

For NPR News, I'm Cyrus Farivar.

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