The Next Battleground Against Spam and Adult Content: Your Cellphone

Dennis Faas's picture

Watch out. As industry marketers and publishers turn their attention to providing mobile content, spam and the web's unscrupulous are following suit.

Ferris Research, based in San Francisco, estimates that 1.5 billion unsolicited text messages will be received by American consumers. That doesn't sound like much when you take into account that 48 billion text messages were sent in December of 2007 alone, but if you are a cell phone consumer that pays 20 cents a message, that can add up to big bucks! (Source:

According to Juniper Research, $1.7 billion of "mobile adult content" and related services were generated in 2007. They estimate that the current trends in video and user-generated content (e.g. YouTube) will drive demand to over $4.6 billion by 2012. (Source:

Can anything be done about these trends? Maybe. Most telecommunications carriers are attempting to implement spam filters to block spam before it reaches their customers. At Sprint, for example, more than 65 percent of all text messages sent through its network are blocked. Nonetheless, that hasn't stopped some consumers from insisting that telecoms reimburse them for spam text messages they have received. Carriers are eager to comply; they're concerned about spam because they see a large potential market in mobile advertising content for themselves and they don't want spammers to spoil it by sensitizing consumers to advertising.

Adult content is a more difficult nut to crack. As many cell phones have access to the Internet, adult content can easily be obtained. But behind the scenes, many cell phone and network operators sponsor or partner with mobile adult content providers to exploit demand. According to the Mobile Adult Content Congress (who knew!), they want a piece of that multi-billion dollar market. For example, last year, Telus Mobility of Canada, a mainstream cell service provider, surreptitiously began providing images on a fee-per-download basis. No public announcements or launch was made. When consumers learned of their offerings, Telus defended its move by saying it was providing the material in a "responsible" way; i.e. with age verification controls. That didn't wash with consumers; clients began to cancel their service, sell off Telus stock and one even sued. Eventually, Telus withdrew their adult offerings from the market. Similar backlashes have been experienced by carriers in the UK and Australia. (Source:

The consumer can only hope that the battles against spam and adult content can be won on the cell phone front. It will be a sad day if that type of content becomes as ubiquitous on your cell phone as it is in your junk mail folder.

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