Greetings from Mobile Phone Spam

September 22, 2010 § Leave a comment

Wednesday Sept 22 is the Mid-Autumn Festival in China, the day with the fullest moon, according to Chinese lunar calendar. The three-day holiday enables families to get together, eating moon-cakes while dining outside under moonlight.

Though on the other half of the globe, I need no remainder that the melancholy holiday is approaching. I didn’t turn off my Chinese cellphone and kept getting spam messages -companies advertising their products and services ranging from dessert to horse-riding club membership, math tutorial to real estate, flight tickets to cosmetics.

Spam messages is a huge problem in China. The matter of leaked personal information put aside, just the sheer volume of disturbances is enough to freak anyone out. As a personal experience, I once got over 30 spam messages on Chinese New Year’s Eve.

In 2008,China Telecom and China Unicom set up a spam reporting system, through which spam messages are identified automatically upon complaints and the companies will stop providing services to their senders. However, this effort turned out to be quite ineffective, because since a SIM card can be bought for a minimum of 3 dollars at almost any news stand without a valid ID, the senders could resume their businesses simply by purchasing another SIM card whenever they are denied service. (Some low-end services allow users to buy credits at stores and news stand, making the registration process unnecessary.)

In 2009, the two telecom giants came up with another idea, limiting the number of messages a single user is allowed to send: 200 text messages per hour, 1000 per day on weekdays and 500 per hour, 2000 per day during holidays. It certainly makes sending spams more cumbersome but not to the extent of thwarting their efforts.

Recently, the Chinese government is taking another measure to tackle this problem, from its root. “The Chinese government on Wednesday began to require cellphone users to furnish identification when buying SIM cards“, the New York Times said. “The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said that about 40 percent of China’s 800 million cellphone users were currently unidentified.”.

Is it going to work?

Some are skeptical. China lacks the “legal structure and institution” to effectively enforce what is planned. If that’s the case, illegal market will thrive voluntarily, just like what happened when the Prohibition law was imposed in the United States – moonshine, bootleggers and speakeasies pervaded.

Although the efficacy of this measurement is uncertain, this is a necessary step forward to start with. And it does provide some comfort to the helpless Chinese people who are harassed everyday by unsolicited advertising messages.


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