GEO

TI Georgia poll results: Two out of three adults receive spam SMS

15 January, 2014

In recent months, Transparency International Georgia highlighted how unsolicited spam SMS with advertising violate people’s right to privacy and how companies take advantage of the fact that right now they cannot be easily held accountable for violating the law.

In order to get a better sense how people perceive spam SMS – which, we have to admit, deeply annoy us – we included several relevant questions into an opinion poll that CRRC conducted for us. In the period of October 3-26, 1,918 adults (18+) were interviewed face-to-face across the country.   

The results of this nationwide poll indicate that despite numerous warnings and appeals to advertisers to respect consumers’ privacy, several companies keep spamming about 67% of the respondents. Almost half of the people who receive spam SMS messages (46%) state that these ads are useless for them but, interestingly, they also say that they don’t mind receiving them. 21% of respondents said they are irritated by the advertising messages, contrary to 24% of consumers who find these messages useful sometimes, another 8% find them often useful.

Advertisers are especially active in the capital and urban areas: 86% of respondents in Tbilisi and 77% of respondents in other urban centers said they have received unsolicited mobile ads. Rural areas, in comparison, receive relatively smaller spam flows: only 66% of the respondents in rural ears say they receive unsolicited mobile advertising.

What do you think about the telephone messages you receive from commercial companies? It turns out adults across the country feel the same about mobile spam, no matter how old they are. On average, half of respondents within each age group state that they perceive incoming ads as useless but they don’t mind receiving them. Unsolicited ads are also equally (on average 20% within each age group) irritating for people of different age.

Some marketing companies offer service of targeting specific audiences by age, sex, location and even social status. This is why we also looked at correlation between the number of recipients and their employment status to see whether people who hold a job – and thus a larger disposable income – are more likely to get spammed. Interestingly, results indicated that unemployed people get spammed almost as often (72%) as people with jobs (83%) which leads us to assume that either mobile marketing companies don’t have full and accurate data on consumer’s employment status or that advertisers prefer massive SMS bulk campaigns reaching anybody over targeted direct marketing.           

The fact that 78% of spam recipients do not mind getting unsolicited messages (if we combine those who think “ads are useless but I don’t mind”, “they are sometimes useful” and “they are often useful”) indicates that public awareness of the right to privacy and data protection – and the importance attributed to this right – remain low. Most people appear to be not fully aware that the problem with unsolicited mobile ads is not only that it irritates and disturbs, but that the spam may also indicate that a recipient’s personal personal data may not be secure. As we have already highlighted, it remains unclear how mobile marketing companies get the phone numbers, addresses, age and other data related with the customers – they simply refuse to reveal the source of this information.

Given such picture, it is the Personal Data Protection Inspector and her team’s task to serve as a prominent and trusted institution that will not only promote an environment where both, state and private entities respect individuals’ privacy rights, but also manage to increase citizens’ knowledge on personal data protection and privacy issues.

But the Inspector, who is responsible for the protection of personal data and for the monitoring and enforcement of the Law on Personal Data Protection, is currently restricted in its power to act – the fact which private sector seems to be taking advantage of. Tamar Kaldani, the very first Inspector, can only issue warnings but is not empowered to inspect cases and impose sanctions on violators until 2016. Only then, the law on personal data protection will be fully enforced, and the inspector will be allowed to fine violators.  

The 2016 deadline is only part of the problems related with the Law on Personal Data Protection faces. After we launched our anti-spam campaign, several advertisers responded, saying they use the service of intermediary mobile marketing companies for sending advertising and if customers’ personal data in their databases is collected from illegal sources, it’s the fault of that service provider, not the advertiser’s. This ‘who’s responsible’ dilemma is the result of legal loopholes which the Personal Data Protection Inspector’s office intends to solve with new legal amendments. The package of amendments, among other things, will seek to introduce an easy unsubscribe option for recipients of advertising messages, hopefully putting an end to unsolicited spam communication before 2016.

However, despite legal restrictions at the moment, customers can still demand from companies individually to stop using their data for marketing purposes and demand disclosure how the company obtained their personal information. we have drafted a sample letter that you can adopt and use for approaching companies and requesting information.

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Author: Diana Chachua
Media