Optical express SMS Spam in the UK
Mon, Aug 06, 2012 by Chris Barton
…You couldn’t have picked a worse person to txt spam.
SMS spam is one of the more annoying marketing practices of the mobile age. SMSs have a sense of urgency only out prioritized by the telephone call. This makes them hugely attractive to marketing companies in many countries, including the UK where I live. These companies blatantly advertise massive open-rates for the SMS channel, yet fail to inform customers they that it’s one of the more annoying advertising methods.
Optical Express for example have been using SMS advertising for quite some time and we see a moderately unhealthy level of complaints to the 7726 and 87726 spam reporting services from UK mobile subscribers.
Here is a graph from the system:
Most of the reports we see are obvious scams. In contrast, Optical Express had the highest level of complaints among the SMS messages that appeared to be advertising a legitimate service.
At first we suspected that as Optical Express are running an affiliate program then bad policing of affiliate behavior would be the issue, as we know from past experience that spammers love to abuse affiliate programs that have poor oversight.
However, their SMS campaign targeting recently gained my undivided attention, on a quiet Sunday afternoon. No, they didn’t spam the chief exec at Cloudmark, they spammed my wife, whilst she was snoozing.
So I decided to do some investigations into what was going on with Optical Express and to contact someone responsible to complain about the spam.
It never hurts to ask!
So earlier this week I called the optical express press office and had an eye-opener conversation. It’s not affiliates spamming at all, it’s actually a direct advertising campaign.
Optical Express’ press officer kindly offered to find out where our number had come from however this was not my intention so I quizzed her further and she readily admitted that Optical Express’ online marketing department was sending SMS marketing campaigns to both internal leads and third party leads which are purchased from another company. She couldn’t answer questions about that company but she offered to put me through to the online-marketing department for further assistance.
Let me take a break and explain for a second how “opt-in” co-reg marketing works with an analogy shared with me recently:
A husband gets permission from his wife to go to the pub on certain nights of the week with his mates, then sometime later later gets divorced, re-married, and then uses the original permission as an excuse when his new partner moans about his social habits.
In truth, it’s probably worse than that because husbands could rent permissions from their ex-wives to one another too
Enter a “free prize draw” for a phone or iPad today and possibly miss the opt-out tick boxes on an insurance comparison site, and technically you give permission for direct marketing and ”partner” marketing FOREVER, where “partners” rent and sell these opt-in permissions by the lorry load, ad nauseum . If only they made widespread opting out so easy. The same is true for insurance comparisons & extended warranty sites where marketing opt-in boxes are increasingly checked by default (or opt out boxes are unchecked by default) and often hidden behind off-page policy links. We bought a freezer with just such an example the other day:
” So, how did Optical Express get my number? “
The gentleman that instantly answered the phone in Optical Express’ online marketing department was hugely helpful with my inquiry and gave me details of the companies they use to drive the third party campaign:
The SMSs are sent by Dynmark, however interesting they may appear, it’s irrelevant as there are many bulk SMS providers. I mention them here in the hope they understand the method completely.
I was also told that the mobile numbers for the third party campaign sent out by Optical Express come from a company called (DMLS) Direct Marketing Lead Solutions.
One look at their website should set alarm bells ringing for anyone that dislikes spam or promotes responsible & honest messaging practices: Lead Generation, Co-Reg, Email Appending, 50m Email Addresses, Prize Websites, Etc.
In their online brochure I found this gem : “DMLS rents millions of SMS numbers for its successful marketing campaigns.” … Hold on a second, rents? Why is this sounding like a tool hire shop? I digress…
I’m not a lawyer but the practices of lead generation companies seem technically legal in the UK from a data protection point of view to me. However, I’m a advocate of the spirit of the law vs. the letter of the law argument in such circumstances. As a reasonable person, if I give personal details to a company, I have a relationship with the company, and do not expect them to be generating an additional channel of revenue trading contact details to marketing firms, who then sell/rent/lend/append them onward again. Default opt-in to 3rd (plus) party marketing is pretty unethical in my humble opinion.
Usually I’d fill this space with good advice on how to avoid opting in to these “services” by being diligent or complaining creatively, but not in this case. Should you wish to contact the ICO to complain about the use of your mobile number for SMS marketing then they have a link on their homepage and have some interesting powers.