Definition Edit

Introduced in the U.S. market in October 2003, Common Short Codes (CSCs) are short numeric codes of five or six digits, compatible across carriers, to which text messages can be sent from a mobile phone.

Overview Edit

Wireless subscribers send text messages to short codes to access a wide variety of mobile content, for example, to vote for contestants on American Idol. Many entities use CSCs to communicate with interested parties: television stations; individual television shows; radio stations; instant messaging services; political, advocacy, and other organizations; magazines, and sports teams — among others. Users send a message to the CSC to subscribe to alerts or other messages. Sometimes these messages are delivered for free by the originator, sometimes there is a fee.

Legal Issues Edit

There are a number of legal issues concerning CSC.

Carrier Blocking of Common Short Code Messages Edit

In September 2007, Verizon notified NARAL Pro-Choice America that it would not participate in its CSC program. NARAL does not charge for its messages and users may opt-in or opt-out as desired, but Verizon stated that it does not accept programs from any group "that seeks to promote an agenda or distribute content that, in its discretion, may be seen as controversial or unsavory to any of [its] users."[1]

This decision was immediately criticized by free-speech advocates, although communications scholars pointed out that the company most likely, from a legal standpoint, did have the right to refuse to participate in the program.[2] Since text messages are not carried over the traditional telephone network, such messages are not protected under common carrier regulation. The next day, Verizon changed its decision and is now participating in NARAL's CSC program, saying in a statement that the decision had been "an incorrect interpretation of a dusty internal policy" that "was designed to ward against communications such as anonymous hate messaging and adult materials sent to children." The policy had been developed "before text messaging protections such as spam filters adequately protected customers from unwanted messages."[3]

This issue highlights the difficulty in applying the current regulatory structure to new services. While mobile providers appear to have the legal right to determine what information is available through their CSC programs, Congress may wish to consider whether and how political and other speech might be better protected in those programs.

Deceptive and Misleading Common Short Code Programs Edit

Many third-party content providers use the CSC program and bill the usage through the mobile service provider. For example, content providers can allow mobile device users to download content (e.g., ringtones) or participate in SMS-based chat.) While most of these content providers are legitimate businesses, others use deceptive tactics to gain customers and run up unexpected charges.[4]

For example, as reported by CBS News in February 2008, some customers have subscribed to monthly services without reading the "fine print" and find that the charge is often difficult to remove because it is an independent third party rather than the customer's mobile service provider.[5]

The Mobile Marketing Association has developed "Consumer Best Practices Guidelines"[6] that it expects its members to follow. This code includes limiting subscription periods to one month, after which consumers must re-subscribe, and providing alerts to customers when their chat-related charges reach $25 increments. Although the best practices have not eliminated all misleading programs, over time the industry may bring its members into compliance.

Protecting Children from Inappropriate Content on Wireless Devices Edit

As more mobile devices become equipped to access the World Wide Web and additional content services are made available via CSCs, the risk of children downloading inappropriate content will likely increase. While wireless carriers may follow a set of voluntary guidelines[7] to promote wireless safety for children, there is no way to guarantee that children will not be able to access inappropriate content by circumventing carrier-implemented safeguards.

The following types of material can be downloaded on many wireless devices, and may include content inappropriate for children.

"Sexting" Edit

See Sexting.

Mobile Cyberbullying Edit

See Cyberbullying.

References Edit

  1. Adam Liptak, “Verizon Blocks Messages of Abortion Rights Group,” N.Y. Times, Sept. 27, 2007 (full-text).
  2. Id.
  3. Adam Liptak, "Verizon Reverses Itself on Abortion Messages," N.Y. Times, Sept. 28, 2007 (full-text).
  4. See Class Action Connect (full-text) for examples of these types of complaints.
  5. CBS News, "Ringing Up Big Charges For 'Free' Tones," Feb. 22, 2008 (full-text).
  6. Consumer Best Practices Guidelines.
  7. CTIA — The Wireless Association has voluntary guidelines for wireless carriers to use in classifying content that they provide directly over wireless handsets. These voluntary guidelines apply only to content purchased from the wireless carrier, either on a one-time use or download basis, or as part of a package with a monthly fee such as ringtones, wallpaper, games, music, video clips, or TV shows.
  8. FCC Consumer Fact Sheet, "Protecting Children from Adult Content on Wireless Devices."[1]

Source Edit

See also Edit