On 20 February 2018, South Africa’s Wireless Application Service Providers Association (WASPA) warned mobile consumers about engaging in mobile-based communications with companies that are not members of the organisation. According to the association, this could result in unforeseen consequences for cellular consumers range from annoyance, at the very least, to financial loss.
According to WASPA, using contract or prepaid mobile devices to transact with a mobile content or applications provider that is not one of its over 400 local and overseas-based members is tantamount to engaging in unprotected mobile communications. This is because WASPA sets a very high consumer protection standard that is readily enforced.
The organisation believes that many of its members are overseas-based mobile firms who are attracted to the growing SA market and impressed by the watertight Code of Conduct which is comparable to similar documents in leading developed markets.
The self-regulating industry association that is recognised by all South African mobile network operators (MNOs) requires consumers to explicitly opt-in and opt-out of any mobile communication transmitted by its members. This is in line with South Africa’s Consumer Protection Act and the Electronic Communications and Transaction Act.
“Mobile consumers have very limited recourse in dealing with non-WASPA members based locally or abroad,” according to WASPA general manager, Ilonka Badenhorst.
If they are based locally, then approaching the Direct Marketing Association (if the transmitter of mobile content and applications is a DMA member) or the National Consumer Commission (in terms of the Consumer Protection Act) are two remedies available to consumers when dealing with non-WASPA content and applications firms.
Consumers could also approach their local mobile network operator for relief although this might not be practical where an overseas SMS gateway is being used to spam consumers who have no way of identifying the sender.
“If one considers that we have an opt-out system in South Africa which, in terms of legislation, says unsolicited commercial messages can indeed be sent to consumers without their prior consent – as long as an opt-out mechanism is provided – then it’s clear that WASPA sets the bar higher for its members. This means added protection for consumers that is not provided by non-WASPA members,” explained Ms Badenhorst.
The WASPA Code of Conduct is vigorously enforced and has been revised about a dozen times since May 2014 to better protect the consumer while reflecting new challenges within the wireless application service provider (WASP) industry. “WASPA’s world-leading Code of Conduct sets the standard for responsible self-regulation and is regularly fine-tuned to better protect the mobile consumer,” says Ms Badenhorst.
WASPA first introduced a Code of Conduct to regulate the then emerging mobile content and applications industry in 2004. From a loose collection of like-minded firms wanting to offer increased choice to the mobile consumer, the sector is today an important contributor to South Africa’s vibrant cellular industry.