Tougher rules to protect consumers from unsolicited mobile phone services and intrusive text messages could be in place by the winter under new proposals.
Operators will be forced to introduce clearer pricing for premium rate mobile phone content and will not be allowed to sign consumers up to subscription services without their express approval, regulator PhonePayPlus said.
Under a separate rule to be enforced from yesterday, any subscription service that prevents customers from stopping it easily and quickly will be immediately shut down.
The measures follow a 108% increase in complaints to PhonePayPlus over the last year compared to the year before.
Other proposals will ensure consumers receive fewer and more targeted promotional text messages and are able to make more informed decisions about the services they buy.
They should also find it as easy to leave a subscription service as it was to join.
The mobile premium content market grew to more than £460m in 2007/08, with 38% of UK consumers buying ringtones, pictures and games or participating in television programmes and competitions, the regulator said.
As many as 32% of children from low-income households regularly used phone-paid services on their mobile phone compared to 18% for children from more affluent homes.
PhonePayPlus said it received more than 8,000 complaints over the last year, a 108% increase on the year before.
There was anecdotal evidence of consumers, including young people, being charged several thousand pounds as a result of bad practice by content and service providers.
In 2007 the regulator found 33 mobile services had breached regulations and fined them more than £360,000.
It had already imposed fines of more than £390,000 in the first six months of this year.
Many customers had complained of being signed up to subscription services without their consent and continuing to receive chargeable messages after they sent a ‘Stop’ command.
Others had received unsolicited promotional messages and were sometimes charged for them.
The full cost of services was often unclear, with customers not realising they would be charged for repeated updates instead of the original product.
Lack of trust
PhonePayPlus chief executive George Kidd said: ‘There is a clear lack of trust among many consumers about mobile premium services and this is small wonder when you consider the kind of harm that is being done to them by some providers.
‘It’s essential that we address this. Only by working together to build trust among consumers will we see a growing, sustainable, vibrant market for phone-paid services.’
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