Again, stop Globe from texting those irritating @?#*&!! ads!

If that title seems familiar, it’s because it should be. It’s basically the title of my column in July last year, written when I blew my top after being awakened very early in the morning by an SMS message in my Globe cell phone selling a condominium unit.

I had been getting those unsolicited text messages—spam really—continuously, and my problem is that I usually drop everything to read those SMS messages, since I assume these were urgent and/or important.  I’m in fact a believer in the etiquette in this technological era to respond to text messages (and emails) immediately, or at least acknowledge their receipt.

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Globe reacted through a letter (which we published) from its Corporate Communications Head Yoly Crisanto, who seems to be so sloppy in her work that she even misspelled my name.

This lady should be given a crash course on public relations: her tone was belligerent, saying that she is “refuting the accusations” I hurled, that I put the “6,000-strong dedicated employees of Globe” in “a bad light,” and that I was ignorant of the issues.  For Chrissake, I was just complaining about infuriating, unsolicited ads!

She exhorted “Globe subscribers” to report SMS spam messages and that this could be done by calling 211 if you’re using a cell phone, and 730-1000 if you’re using a land line, or reporting it through www.globe.com.ph/support, its Facebook page, or send a message through Twitter.

I’m sure Ms. Crisanto had not even tried testing these venues.  Dial 211 and you’ll get a recorded message (“Good morning, we hope you have a wonderful day”  blah-blah) about all you would need from Globe, from activating a SIM card to applying for land line.  When I tried, there wasn’t any number to be “pressed” to report a spam message. You’ll have to wait for a real person to get on the online — and after you register your number — which I wouldn’t do as I value my confidentiality.

There were no sections in that website or in its Facebook account for SMS spam complaints.

In the US and elsewhere many years back, each telephone company contained SMS spam messages by providing subscribers with a special four-digit number to which you just send the spam and the number used by the spammer, and they seemed to track each spam down. Just a few clicks to report the abuse.

The telephone companies in the US and Europe lobbied for laws that made it illegal to send unsolicited ads through SMS.

Several suits had been filed in the US and Europe invoking these laws. The largest settlement involved $10 million, imposed on the book publisher Simon & Schuster, which outsourced its promotional campaign to a marketing company that sent messages to 100,000 phone numbers. That case and several others swiftly made companies stop such ads.

Months after that lady’s truculent letter though, I thought that maybe I had been getting those ads since I was too parsimonious and was using a prepaid service. Globe must have issued millions of these SIM cards, as more than 70 percent of its revenues come from these. I thought security would be tighter if I used a postpaid service.

I switched, and it is costing me P2,000 per month. Yet I’m still getting @?#*&!! ads! Even more than I got when I was using prepaid service.  How did they get my post-paid number?

And the ads aren’t sent by fly-by-night companies but by big, purportedly reputable firms.  A few examples:

• From 09362882809: “CARITAS HEALTH SHIELD, INC. Last reminder: Please be advised that your free annual physical exams are still on hold. Look for Mr. Karl Aquino.” (My HMO though is not from Caritas!

• From 09062112747: “From SM Residences: Own your Dream Condo in Trees Residences across SM Fairview. Visit https://www.facebook.com/SmdcPropertyInvestment.”

• From 092728182: “Affordable condo in Makati CBD near Salcedo Park and Greenbelt. www.megaworldmakaticity.webs.com.”

In the past few months in fact, I noticed that more and more of the spam ads were selling condominiums, which I think confirms reports I have been getting that the property market has slowed down, with some even predicting that the real estate bubble will soon be bursting.

The fact though that many of the spam ads weren’t asking the recipients to reply to cell phone numbers but to check out the companies’ websites or Facebook accounts would seem to indicate that these were sent not just by overly aggressive sales personnel, but by the companies themselves. So are these companies dealing with Globe itself to get the numbers to send their ads? Or with some syndicate inside Globe?

Quite surprisingly though three legislators you’d love to hate had filed bills to ban unsolicited cell phone ads.

Senator Manuel “Lito” Lapid filed a bill titled “Cellular Phone Message Spamming Protection Act of 2010” that would impose a P500,000 to P1 million fine or imprisonment form six months to six years to anybody or any company sending unsolicited advertisements through text messages. The bill though didn’t get anywhere.

In the House of Representatives, Congressman Emmanuel Pacquiao—yep, Manny Pacquiao —filed also in 2010 the counterpart bill, his version imposing a fine of P20,000 to P100.00 per violation. It wasn’t clear though in the bill if “per violation” for each unsolicited text message. Then Congressman Joseph Victor Ejercito (“JV Estrada”) also filed nearly an exact but separate bill.

The three bills didn’t even get to the stage of being referred to the appropriate committee discussions and public hearings, and died with the end of the 15th Congress.

With so many puerile bills filed in Congress—a bill was filed for instance wanting to declare waling-waling as our national flower and another banning the all-you-can-eat rice scheme in certain fast-food chains—it is amazing why there hasn’t been one filed to penalize senders of unsolicited SMS ads.

I would have thought lawmakers would be the first to complain, as they seem to spend most of their time during session hours looking at and clicking at their cell phones.