Facebook and premium phone services

Here is an article from the Age about how easy it is to be signed up to a premium phone service without being aware that you have done so…

WHAT the hell is 5th Finger? You should know: when ninemsn announced its acquisition in November 2005, it was described as “Australia’s leading mobile marketing solutions company” that had already “interacted with over 5.5 million Australians”. Anyway, I put the question to my two children. Their shared mobile number had logged six Premium SMS calls from 5th Finger at $4 each, all at 4.59pm — a total of $24 in a matter of seconds. (Another six at $24 showed up in the next month’s bill.) They were mystified. Both insisted they had not signed up for anything; they know they cannot afford it on their tight budgets.

Strangely, a STOP SMS to the billed number prompted the reply: “You are not subscribed to any service.” The practised line from my mobile company, 3, was that it was only a third party and unable to help, beyond blocking Premium SMS calls to the mobile, one of three on my account. I had to contact the SMS content provider on the help number listed on the bill.

After many attempts, I got through — to Dublin of all places — where a representative of Blinck, somehow related to 5th Finger, explained how my son could unknowingly sign up to a Premium SMS subscription: he had completed an online quiz, via a link from Facebook and by entering a code sent to his mobile to obtain the result, he was deemed to have given informed consent to subscribing to an exorbitantly priced SMS service.

My son vaguely recalled the quiz, but had no idea he had entered an ongoing contract. He treated the unexpected SMSs as unwanted spam. Retracing his steps online, it was clear the company’s ideas of a “totally transparent” process, as it asserted in an exchange of emails, and of informed consent were very different from what most of us would regard as reasonable.

The terms and conditions that tell a participant they are actually entering into a subscription contract are not set out on the same web page — a click-through link leads to that fine print, which the user is deemed to have read. Perhaps one in 100 online users would click through to and read this stuff. Continued…

Students should be made aware of the following website www.19sms.com.au which explains how to stop these services.