Some customers are calling for service providers to provide an option to unsubscribe from ads but retain public notifications 

ICT: Some local mobile phone users are irked at the number of SMS advertisements they received in the past few weeks.

There was a spike in SMS advertisements in February, as several educational institutions were advertising open admissions.

While not all users found the marketing SMSes to be a nuisance, some said they were concerned that the number of commercial SMSes could increase in frequency and become an inconvenience.

While bulk SMS advertisements are illegal if done without the consent of the customer in some countries, in Bhutan it is permitted to a certain degree.

The Code of Practice for Short Messaging Service-Cell Broadcast service, which came into force in August 2011, limits telecommunications companies to advertise a product or service through SMS only to end-users of an “intended geographical area”. This means SMS advertisements cannot be broadcast to all of a telecommunication company’s subscribers at one go.

The code also requires that telecommunication companies provide their customers with the option to unsubscribe from such SMS services.

The terms and conditions, which have to be attached with every application form for a SIM card, also states that the service provider has a right, unless the customer indicates otherwise, to send promotional and social messages or materials via electronic means, including SMS, voice, and email.

A spokesperson for Bhutan Telecom said that customers can unsubscribe from SMS notifications by calling their contact centre at 1600 or by visiting any of the company’s counters.

However, if a customer chooses to unsubscribe from SMS notifications, then notifications related to national interest, cautionary messages during natural disasters, and other public messages issued by the government, will not be received. This is the same case for Tashi Cell subscribers.

“We can remove their number from the system, however, once the number is removed from the system, they will not receive any message from BT be it commercial ads, offers, announcements or govt. notifications,” the spokesperson said.

One concerned customer, who requested anonymity, said that it is a violation of privacy to share a client’s contact information. “To address such, BT/Tashi Cell must have some categories of options to choose while signing up for their service,” said the customer. “They can easily categorize into government or public announcements, and private announcements,” the customer added. “Subscribers can then choose from option, otherwise they group all clients into one category and use it to advertise even silly messages such as Party Nights.”

Tashi Cell’s marketing officer said that the company is aware that customers should have the option of choosing to receive only public notifications issued by the government and not advertisements. The officer added that Tashi Cell is working to upgrade their system to provide this option but that it may take time as other work is ongoing such as the introduction of its 4G service.

Another customer, (Dr) Karma Phuntsho, said that using customer details for commercial advertisements without explicit consent from the customers is a violation of customer privacy and confidentiality.

The BT spokesperson said that prior to any broadcast of an SMS advertisement, the source of the message is authenticated, and ensure that the information is pertinent, accurate and not a public nuisance.

Gyalsten K Dorji