Two days ago in a restaurant in Nakuru, a friend of mine received a text message from Safaricom. The message, he says, read, “You have qualified for a GOtv decoder”. He immediately asked me where he could go and get his decoder, “I think Nakumatt is near”, I told him. He cleared his plate in haste and hurried to Nakumatt. I didn’t bother to find out whether he was handed the decoder he had qualified for.
Three hours later I received a text message from Safaricom’s M-Shwari,
Dear customer, you qualify for a GOtv decoder loan of Ksh 2499 from M-Shwari payable in 3months. Dial *234*6*2# for details. Enjoy live football matches in June
Clearly there was a similarity between the message I received and the one my friend had received, at least before the word loan, in my message, is reached. Although I have not verified the exact message my friend received, I can bet he actually received the same exact message as me despite receiving mine three hours after he left me in the restaurant. I can also swear that his lack of communication since he left must be due to the embarrassment he faced at whatever GOtv office he went to claim his prize.
The message I received has caught the attention of Cofek. They posted on their Facebook Page:
PRIVACY: “… you qualify for a @GoTvKenya loan…” @SafaricomLtd must stop running 3rd party ads on private phones on either M-Shwari or any other product whether or not they are free to the the SMS receiving customer. The ads are being intrusive and remain a threat to individual privacy. Third parties can advertise elsewhere of their choice.
The statement by Cofek caught my attention and made me think if it could be possible for my friend to sue both Safaricom and GOtv for confusing him and causing him unnecessary embarrassment. He, just as you and me, owns a premium Safaricom number. The Safaricom numbers we own are premium because we pay to use them. We all know that premium content ought to be ads free, right?
Well, there are exceptions. As much as we pay to watch Pay TV services, there are some channels in those packages that run ads. However, the Pay TV services have a number of channels that are ads free and indeed those are the services that we pay for as normally, we could still access the channels that run ads free of charge – although that would depend on your locality.
Talking about ads on TV, we do appreciate the ads ran on NTV, KTN, Citizen et al for one simple reason, we do not at all pay to watch content by those stations. KTN will buy content at very expensive rates, broadcast that content to us freely, but recoup their investments from selling ads which we have no option but to watch.
Online, free services like Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, and numerous others make their kill by allowing us to socialize or email back and forth for free but with an understanding that we will be clicking on some of the promoted or sponsored content. But if one wants to opt out of the ads, especially in platforms like Emails etc, he or she would have the discretion of paying for that service. This is true for almost all gaming sites and some mobile Apps.
It seems however that telecommunication companies have not adhered to this natural state of affairs when it comes to providing their communication services. Foremost, one has to buy a handset, then a SIM card in order to have a line. Once these are in place, the same person is required to spend hundreds of shillings per week/month in order to access the communication services by buying Air Time at the rate of about 4 bot a minute for calls or 1 bob an SMS; not forgetting the 1 bob per MB for data.
But the telecommunication firms still think that we are accessing their services for free hence the need to continually bombard customers with unsolicited ads that could end up confusing them. As one commenter on the Cofek post asks,
I need to know, if I receive such an advert in the middle of the night, And the issue disturbs me so much that I find it difficult getting back to sleep, To an extent that I am late for a business engagement the following day, Making me incur a loss, Can I sue the service provider?
In December 2013 Independent published that “four telephone companies were fined for unwanted calls and spam to customers“. It is therefore clear that when telecos violate consumers right to privacy, consumers can lodge a case in court to have the telecos heavily fined.
Unsolicited ads is very notorious in Kenya with Airtel taking the lead. Orange and Yu follows closely but Safaricom is not spared either.
These companies ought to be stopped from sending unsolicited ads, whether the ads are on their products or contain third party promotions.