Vodafone

Vodafone has warned that new rules designed to protect customers could actually open them up to a new risk - that of porn spamming. It raised its concerns in a response to an Ofcom consultation on how to protect customers from mid-contract price hikes.

So how could this lead to porn spamming?


The consultation

Ofcom is considering new rules after all the major providers (O2, Vodafone, Orange, T-Mobile and Three Mobile) announced that they would be putting up the price of their contracts before they expired. Which? has estimated that the changes affected 15 million people, and cost them around £100 million.

Customers have no right to ditch the contract as a result of the price increase, because the small print allows the companies to raise prices in exceptional circumstances. The companies argue that their increased costs count as exceptional enough to merit a price rise.

Ofcom said in January that this was unacceptable, and it would change the rules so they were fairer for consumers. The organisation has now published a consultation document, and it's one of the remedies outlined in this that has worried Vodafone.

Warning

It told The Guardian that phone companies would have to notify customers if there were any changes to 'third party' prices, like premium rate numbers, international numbers and any 08 numbers.

In Vodafone's response to the paper it highlights that it doesn't have any control over the price of these services, which means they could go up at any time -and in some cases they go up every month. A Vodafone spokesman told AOL: "By way of an indication as to how many price changes there are of these third party numbers, since October 2012, BT has issued 5 notices advising of price changes to 7 of its 118 numbers including 118500 and 118247."

It would then have to send texts to every user - even if they had never used the service in question - telling them of the price increase. It said these would constitute spam. The spokesman told AOL: "Under the very broad-brush approach that Ofcom has taken, the mobile phone companies would have to send texts to absolutely every customer they have (including pay as you go) regardless of whether they had ever used the service whose price is changing. This would result in hundreds of texts being sent every year to customers. Essentially, Ofcom is telling us it wants us to spam all our customers."

It said the proposals: "would require communications providers to send 'spam' to every customer to notify them of every change to the price of any service, including clearly inappropriate notifications such as advising children of changes to adult premium rate prices or notifying rate changes for obscure international destinations that a customer had never called."

The company told AOL this would need to include details of what the service was (not least because otherwise they would be so generic that they would fail Ofcom's own notification tests) and the telephone number in question. In essence they would end up texting children about a price rise for pornographic telephone line and then giving them the number.

It adds in its submission: "Vodafone believes Ofcom must distinguish between those services for which a customer is committed to pay under the terms of a fixed contract and additional services which are, by their very nature, additional and avoidable."

Response

Ofcom told The Guardian that it didn't propose legislating to force companies to send spam, and would respond to the consultation in full in June.

The consultation document also suggests that consumers could have the right to cancel if prices rise during their contract period. This has been met with broad support. Which? has been running a 'Fixed Means Fixed' campaign, which has collected 42,000 supporters, and encouraged Ofcom to consult in the first place. Its research showed that over 70% of people didn't know that prices could increase mid-contract, and 91% felt the best solution was to allow customers to leave without penalty if prices rise.

Vodafone is not objecting to this suggestion. The spokesman told AOL: "Let me make it plain – as our submission to Ofcom does – that "Vodafone does not object to regulation which limits core price rises within the fixed terms of a contract". What we do object to is the way in which Ofcom is going about it. It is using a JCB to crack a nut."

It adds in its submission: "Any Ofcom intervention must be guided by the evidence before it and limited to the concern expressed by consumers; namely unexpected price increases for core services."