Why you might get more of what you try to stop

One of the many annoyances these days consists of spam text messages on cell phones. The worst is so called bulk SMS "short code" spamming, because many of these orginate from crooked providers from all over the world who, because of inherent flaws in the system (as well as lawsuits based on "free speech") are simply allowed to spam anyone they want. (As I pointed out earlier, "free speech" rights for purveyors of unwanted trash seems to be the dominant trend, which does not bode well for any hope of controlling spam.)

I have gotten a couple of very annoying short code messages recently, so I called my cell phone service provider in the hope of blocking them. Now, for reasons I will explain I am reluctant to block any specific short codes; I want to block all short codes. Blocking short codes is a service Verizon offers if you pay more, but I am not a Verizon customer so I can't order it. And even if I could, there is something annoying about having to pay extra for a "service" that simply blocks spam you shouldn't be getting anyway.

No one -- and I mean no one -- wants SMS short code spam from sleazy, dishonest third world operators, but unfortunately, they have a right to send it, because they pay for the damn short codes. And IMO, the cell phone companies allow it because they are getting their cut. Believe it or not, these SMS short code spammers are actually called "service providers." That's right; a spammer can pay to get a short code (here's a how to web site), and then just start spamming. (There is of course software designed for "for your email marketing campaigns.")

To add insult to injury, these sleazy networks are called "marketing services."  (I guess the money you would have to pay to block them they would probably be called "opting out of the market.") 

To add further insult to further injury, unlike ordinary spam, you get to pay for the privilege of having this trash wake you up in the middle of the night and clutter up your cell phone. 

Neat trick. So where are the lawyers now that we need them?

I have been inundated with spam long enough to know that trying to fight it can actually make it worse, because by fighting it you tend to identify yourself. Remember, spambots are often on random fishing expeditions, with over 90% of their targets being non-existent. There are only so many permutations of telephone numbers, so if the spam robots spam a few hundred hundred thousand random numbers, they are certain to "hit" a substantial number of real numbers.

Anyway, my suspicions were aroused by the nature of the messages I received directing me to inoperable website addresses, with urls that trace to defunct Ukrainian accounts. So, the first reaction of a normal person might be to wonder, why would anyone go to the trouble of sending spam that tries to get people to visit a non-existent web site? 

The answer, I suspect, is that they don't even want you to visit the website, or if they do, it is only so that you will become annoyed, and do what the people complaining at the "SMS watchdog" site have done, and attempt to block the originating short code. If you block it, the spambot will then know your number is legitimate, and then the real spam begins. Hence, all those poor clueless people complain about how they can't make it stop by blocking it.

The moral lesson is that when you're dealing with SMS spam, trying to block it can make it worse. When robots are designed to identify you, you help them when you identify yourself.

You might think that the cell phone providers would warn their customers about this, but they don't.

posted by Eric on 04.11.11 at 10:47 AM










Comments

What is free about speech they are forcing YOU to pay for?

M. Simon   ·  April 11, 2011 2:31 PM

I am charged for every text message I get. It's almost like being forced to pay for my junk mail!

Eric Scheie   ·  April 11, 2011 2:35 PM

The same is true in many countries about spam email. Many people still pay by the bandwidth used. (Probably why Gmail and Yahoo and other webmails have become so popular.) You only have to pay the bandwidth to look at the titles.

Kathy Kinsley   ·  April 12, 2011 5:59 PM

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