Consumer Court: There is a ringing in my ears

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by Milton Shaanika-Louw

On March 10, 1876, Alexander Graham Bell got the first telephone to work and uttered the words “Mr Watson—Come here—I want to see you.” He as the inventor realised early on the intrusion a telephone could be and refused to have a telephone in his own study.

The past few weeks I have been getting very frustrated with this invention and the intrusion it is having on my privacy. It all started when MTC started sending me SMS’s about a competition for a cash prize that I could participate in if I first gave them three of my hard earned dollars.

Come on. That is gambling. If I, and all the other entrants must pay a participation fee, but only one of us actually wins a share of the money we all contributed, then this means that not only is it a gamble, but also a money earner for MTC. Upon enquiry with MTC, I was informed that I should send an SMS to request them not to send me any further SMS’s about the competition.

Yep, that’s right. I have to spend three dollars to get off the list of people who receive the message. This whole process by MTC is wrong and I consider it an invasion of my privacy. Further, as a company they are making use of my data for a purpose that I did not agree to.

Let us look first at the invasion of my privacy. The Constitution of Namibia clearly states that “No person shall be subject to interference with the privacy of their homes, correspondence or communications save as in accordance with law and as necessary in a democratic society … .” Sending me an unsolicited message on my cellular phone is a clear interference with my communications. As an aggrieved person you and I are allowed under the constitution to approach the ombudsman to provide us with legal assistance or advice as we require. I am approaching the ombudsman in this regard and will keep you updated in later columns.

Secondly, MTC is using the fact that they know my number, as I am a client of their service, and now using it for a purpose for which I have not granted them the right.

This is considered unsolicited advertising or spam. The most widely recognised form of spam is email spam. The term is also applied to similar abuses in other media: instant messaging spam, Usenet newsgroup spam, Web search engine spam, spam in blogs, wiki spam, online classified ads spam, mobile phone messaging spam, Internet forum spam, junk fax transmissions, social spam, television advertising and file sharing spam.

In the United States, a law called the “Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003” was passed. Under this law (and similar laws elsewhere) companies are required to provide a clear and free method of unsubscribing from such messages.

It further allows for the establishment of national do not call/sms/email list that allows consumers to register their details and be protected from unsolicited advertising. Of course, the law also allows for fines and penalties for companies that do not adhere to these regulations.

Some readers might feel that I am making a mountain out of a molehill by insisting that companies like MTC and others should be prevented from sending us junk mail via our telephones. I would however remind you that our telephones are a communication method that not only allows outward communication, but also is often used for inward communication relating to families and friends.

Take an example of the grandmother who cannot read at night getting an unsolicited advert in the middle of the night. She will have to wait till morning to know what is in the message and meanwhile she fears the worst news until then.

• Milton Shaanika-Louw is a consumer activist and prolific blogger on consumer protection issues (http://miltonlouw.blogspot.com). He serves as the voluntary director at Namibia Consumer Protection Group.

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