Qatar’s telecoms watchdog plans tough action on mobile spam

For illustrative use only

Video still via ictQatar

For illustrative purposes only,

Qatar’s telecoms regulator has pledged to take stricter action against companies that bombard residents with unwanted marketing messages, amid ongoing complaints about spam on mobile phones.

The Communications Regulatory Authority (CRA) is drafting a code of conduct that it said would beef up existing guidelines for companies that use text/SMS messages and applications such as WhatsApp, Viber and Skype to reach customers.

This new code is still in the early stages of being drawn up and will take input from consumers and industry representatives before it is finalized, a CRA spokesman said.

The watchdog hopes to create a more rigorous set of rules for companies to follow, including introducing “compliance measures,” the CRA official added, although he did not comment on whether penalties would be involved.

Mobile spam has long been a source of ire for residents. In 2011, Ooredoo (then Qtel) began a spam-blocking service and at the time said businesses could face sanctions for spamming customers.

Mobile spam

Matthew Walker

Mobile spam

Then in 2013, it launched a feature on its mobile app that allows users to block senders by phone number or company name, although in the initial stages, it met with mixed success.

While the service blocked some senders, it did not stop new senders from contacting would-be customers.

Also that year, the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology (ictQatar) put guidelines in place outlining what types of messages can be sent to an individual without their explicit consent. Under those rules, permission is still required even if the recipient has a publicly-available telephone number.

However, these provisions only pertain to messages sent by SMS and email, and they are not currently enforceable with penalties.

The CRA was established last April under Emiri Decree as an independent regulatory arm of ictQatar and is responsible for telecoms, access to digital media and the postal service.

Its remit is to enforce the Advertising, Marketing and Branding Code, introduced September, as a means of improving transparency in telecom marketing campaigns.

In its latest statement, the CRA said it is monitoring the level of complaints about mobile spam, and is looking at bringing in “additional mechanisms and regulatory enforcements that will further clarify the use of telecoms services.”

Blocking spam

The CRA said that it is in talks with Qatar’s two telecoms service providers to address the issue. Until it can roll out what it describes as “stringent measures,” the watchdog has reminded residents how they can stop spam messages.

Oooredoo customers can block numbers by doing the following:

  • Text “Unsub ServiceName” to 92600 or if you want to stop all bulk SMS senders, just send “Unsub all” to 92600;
  • Block an unknown or spamming sender via Ooredoo’s mobile app.
  • Block an unknown or spamming sender via Ooredoo’s helpline (111) or website.
  • Report cases via social media channels – Facebook and Twitter.

Vodafone customers who receive spam and scam messages can:

  • Block an unknown or spamming sender via Vodafone’s helpline (111) or website.
  • Report cases via social media channels – Facebook and Twitter.

Residents receiving spam via Skype, Viber or WhatsApp are advised to report and block the offenders using the app. Repeat offenders can be blocked by contacting the service provider, CRA said.

Ooredoo has previously warned customers against giving out their mobile numbers in stores or when filling out questionnaires, which it said is a sure-fire way of getting added to mobile marketing lists.

“Customers go shopping, and when the cashier asks to fill in a form to either sign up for their loyalty program, be notified of discounts, add a phone number and email to account right before payment, customers give their mobile number.

If the retailer is part of a large chain, that number is then passed on to all their retailers. This is one of the primary ways customers end up getting Spam SMS from these companies,” a company spokesperson previously told Doha News.

Do you receive lots of spam messages? Thoughts?

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