If you are a Cingular, AT&T, Sprint or T-Mobile customer, and you find yourself getting unexpected text email on your phone, accompanied by an unexplained “e-wallet” charge on your cell phone bill from a company called “Mblox”, well, you’re not alone. Because Mblox is back in the phone spam limelight, this time as the front man for a company called Dadamobile (known by their shortcode 63232). It’s amazing how this keeps happening to Mblox.
Why, it was just last month that we told you about how downloading the Crazy Frog ringtone had caused folks to receive expensive phone spam, in the form of text messages for which the recipient had to pay.
The text messages came from the Crazy Frog’s creator, Jamba, through their provider, Mblox. At that time I was inclined to consider Mblox’ cries of “foul!, we’re just the provider, we didn’t spam Jamba’s customers,” as they were fined a cool $71,000 USD by the British watchdog agency, ICSTIS.
But this..this is just deja vu all over again.
In this new case Dadamobile is a provider of ringtones and other cell phone downloads, and they have on their website a form through which you can sign up to have their newsletter sent to you. To your cell phone. For a fee. You just submit your Cingular, AT&T, Sprint or T-Mobile cell phone number, and you start magically getting the newsletter. And the bill.
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Did I mention that they don’t require you to prove that the cell phone number is yours?
No sirree. None of that whacky confirmation stuff for these folks. Just enter a phone number, and they start billing it.
And oh, by the way, they have an affiliate program through which an affiliate can get paid $6.00 for every new customer they sign up.
Hmmm…that’s not likely to be abused by an affiliate just adding all of the phone numbers they can think of, is it? Naaaaaaah.
This all broke over on the Gripe2Ed.com blog, where someone – well – griped to Ed. They claimed that they had found this unexplained charge on their Cingular bill from Mblox, and that Mblox had passed the bu..er..passed them on to Dadamobile. According to Ed’s site, quoting from a Dadamobile email sent to the reader, Dadamobile told the chargee that the subscription to their service “was done by visiting our website, inserting your phone number and ticking a box to state you had read the terms and conditions. We have done a check in our database, but we did not find any requests to stop the service before the end of the free week.”
The customer disservice email goes on to explain that the chargee would have received several SMS messages advising them how to discontinue the (unasked for) service if they wished to. Here is the message that they claim that they send to these new “subscribers”, word for word:
“Need new hot content 4 ur mob? Check www.dadamobile.com or txt LIST to 63232. U have 40 downloads for $9.99/month only. 2 cancel txt STOP.Helpemail@example.com.”
Now, how many of you would understand that to mean that you were signed up by someone for a service you never requested, and were about to be charged for, and that you had to opt out of?
The email to the chargee, from Dadamobile, concluded with “Unfortunately Dadamobile can not take responsibility for the circumstances in which you subscribed, be accidental or not.”
Now, to be fair to Dadamobile, they have responded to this issue on the Gripe2Ed.com blog. Here’s what someone calling themselves “maxpelle”, with an email address of firstname.lastname@example.org, had to say in response to the complaint:
“DADAmobile is a mobile subscription package billed to subscribers on a monthly basis at $9.99. Subscribers are billed by means of premium SMS. The value proposition of the service is to provide subscribers with access to a wide range of mobile content (i.e. ringtones, real tones, wallpapers and javagames). With the payment of the monthly fee, members’ accounts are credited with a sum of tokens (the amount of which depends on the user’s carrier, i.e. Cingular users have a monthly allowance of 40 tokens) which they can “spend” by downloading content from the web site us.dadamobile.com.
The subscription to DADAmobile is a two-part process. First, the user inserts their mobile phone number on a web page on us.dadamobile.com. Second, after receiving an SMS reply from DADAmobile, the user confirms their subscription by either inserting a password (received in SMS) on the web or by replying YES via SMS from their handset. The user is ONLY subscribed to the service if they have completed this second step confirming that they wish to go ahead with the subscription.
This “second opt-in” ensures that users OWN the mobile phone number that has been inserted on the first page and that they have the handset in their posession when subscribing. Therefore no third-person number can be subscribed to DADAmobile unless they have permission to use that mobile/ mobile number and as a result can confirm the subscription as per step 2.
The “second opt-in”message the user receives also serves another purpose. It reminds users that they are subscribing to a monthly subscription service and gives them details on how they can, if they choose, opt-out and receive help. All this information is also clearly presented in more detail on the us.dadamobile.com website.
This two-step process makes it very difficult for us to understand how a user can subscribe without knowledge of doing so and how the word SPAM might be associated with our service.” [Emphasis mine]
Of course, at least one, if not two other people who posted comments to the original post over on Gripe2Ed.com have said that they experienced the same thing.
You can read the entire thread over at Gripe2Ed.com’s Dadamobile thread. As one reader over there points out, if nothing else, this highlights why it’s important to read your cell phone bill every month.
In the meantime, once again, good old Mblox is saying that they are blameless.
Update! After so much response, we tracked the Mblox offfices down! They are in a storefront in a small office stripmall that occupies the addresses 477 through 493 Evelyn Avenue, in Sunnyvale, California. They are right by the train tracks; the wrong side of the tracks, apparently. Here is a picture of the Mblox storefront:
Even giving Mblox the benefit of the doubt a second time, here’s a clue for them: You lay down with dogs, you get up with fleas. You lay down with spammers, you get up with a blacklisting.
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