Cracking the Whip on Mobile Content
The Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) today released its updated standards for proper conduct by providers of wireless chat, subscription services, and interactive TV. "The Consumer Best Practices Guidelines for Cross-Carrier Mobile Content Services" extends and amends the MMA's existing "Code of Conduct for Mobile Marketing." Changes include new procedures for opt-in and -out notifications, chat pricing, and interactive TV voting. Taken as a whole, the guidelines put more power in the hands of service users.
"The consumer best practices committee convenes periodically as required, to ensure we're meeting the needs of carriers, providers, and users in terms of fair play and good business," says Laura Marriott, executive director of the MMA. "By establishing a baseline, we make it easier for companies to roll out new programs to the consumer."
The committee, comprised of representatives from all large wireless carriers, aggregators, and content providers, considers the available services and decides how best to approach delivering and managing them, looking both at smart business and ethical behavior. "In this version of the guidelines, since we did address chat, we also held an open forum in Colorado [in January 2006] so industry representatives could express their own concerns," Marriott says.
Dave Oberholzer, chair of the Consumer Best Practices Committee and associate director of information content programming at Verizon Wireless, says major changes were made to opt-in programs such as short-message chat, subscription services, and similar programs. "The biggest updates affected chat programs, specifically when it comes to billing--subscribers often get caught up in chats and don't realize what they're spending." Oberholzer explains that, for every $25 in premium charges incurred, users should be sent an additional opt-in message informing them of how much they have spent and giving them the option to continue or terminate. As with other premium message services, the user is automatically opted out after 90 consecutive days of inactivity.
Other changes to the best practices guidelines include measures to prevent misleading consumers, such as limiting the use of bots--automated response programs that mimic humans. "People generally assume that they're talking to humans in a chat session," Oberholzer says. "Bots may be used for registration or administrative purposes by the provider, but they can't pretend to be other users." The guidelines also contain rules amounting to truth in advertising, with clear descriptions of the service and billing procedures, cancellation methods, and no hyperbole in the opt-in language.
One place where the rules were loosened is interactive TV, such as programs where viewers are encouraged to vote via mobile messages. "Providers can switch to single opt-in once consumers are aware of the cost structure and other factors," Oberholzer says. By removing this barrier, voting and similar activities can proceed more smoothly and attract a wider audience, he suggests.
MMA best practices are just that, insofar as they are not laws. It is up to the industry to enforce the guidelines with content providers and internally. It is in their best interests to follow the guidelines or risk losing subscribers. "We put more control in the hands of subscribers," Oberholzer says. Too much abuse will make them look elsewhere.
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