Telecom operators on the spot over unsolicited SMS

Regular unsolicited text messages from telecom operators and bulk short messaging service (SMS) providers have not gone down well with a huge section of subscribers of their services, with some of them terming them a nuisance.
Some of the unsolicited messages that telecom companies keep sending on the mobile phones of their clients.
Some of the unsolicited messages that telecom companies keep sending on the mobile phones of their clients.

Regular unsolicited text messages from telecom operators and bulk short messaging service (SMS) providers have not gone down well with a huge section of subscribers of their services, with some of them terming them a nuisance. 

The text messages mostly used to market products and services not only of the telecommunication firms but also of popular products in the market rarely come with an unsubscribe option leaving  mobile users with no option but receive and delete them.  

Edwin Tushabe, a businessman in Kigali, terms the text messages as a nuisance that refuses to go away.

 “I have never subscribed  to these messages. Most of the time, I even have no interest in what is being advertised and this makes it even more annoying,” he said.

According to Rwanda Utilities and Regulatory Authority (Rura), sending unsolicited text messages without an unsubscribe option contraves the law relating to electronic messages, electronic signatures and electronic transactions.

Speaking to The New Times, Engineer Jean Baptiste Mutabazi, the head of communication and media regulation at Rura said as the law provides, Telecom operators and bulk service providers have been reminded to offer unsubscribe options.

“The law is clear that each telecommunication service provider sending text messages to clients to advertise or promote products and services should give them the right to unsubscribe and detail the process involved.  We have communicated with the operators to that effect,” Mutabazi said.

He also urged the public to furnish his office with information regarding such breaches so that necessary measures are taken.

Giving insights on the issue, Equity Juris Chambers,   a renowned law firm in Kigali said telecom operators are also not allowed to use personal data of their clients without written permission.

“The Rwandan Telecoms Law No 44/2001 of November 30, 2001, Article 25 states that a public telecommunications operator cannot use any personal, call traffic or billing data of a user when marketing its services without the explicit written permission of the user in question,” the firm explained.

In the event of contravention of paragraph (1) of this Article, users in the first instance request the public telecommunications operator to cease using their personal details for marketing purposes. 

In cases of continued contravention, the user may notify the regulatory board, which issues a notice prohibiting the public telecommunications operator from using the user’s personal details and may order the operator to pay compensation to the user as the board may determine.

Moussa Habineza, the managing director of Khenz Limited, an IT firm involved in electronic payments and previously involved in Bulk SMS services, said it is possible that some of the bulk SMS service providers could be colluding with the telecom operators to obtain phone numbers of users.

 “For the bulk SMS providers to send the texts, it means that there has to be a sort of coalition between the senders of the bulk SMSs and the Telecom operators.  The providers of the bulk SMSes cannot have access to the database if not allowed by the mobile operators,” Habineza explained.

Whether it is legal or not, Habineza said there has to be a sort of consent given by the client as unsolicited texts should not be forced on clients who do not want them.

Yasmin Amri Sued, the Tigo brand and communication manager, defended the firm, saying they held the client details in confidentiality, adding that they only communicate to their client base information on the product and services that might be relevant to them.

By press time,   the other telecom operators were yet to comment on the issue.

Rather than send unsolicited text messages, local firms have been urged to look into other avenues to reach their targeted clients such as social media feeds where they can engage on a professional level.

Phillip Odour, a marketing and sales consultant for a number of household products, said through the use of social media clients will not feel unnecessarily infringed upon. 

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