The amount of third-party SMS ads we receive from our telecom companies may not be as large as in other countries or as annoying but some mobile phone users are concerned and rightly so.
In Bhutan, no prior consent is required from the mobile user and telecom companies have full authority to broadcast SMS ads. There are limitations on what kind of messages can be broadcast and companies cannot broadcast SMS ads to all their subscribers at one go.
The mobile user can notify their service provider if they do not want to received SMS ads or unsubscribe from receiving SMS ads but this comes at a price. The subscriber will also not receive any other SMS notifications that are to do with public awareness such as during natural disasters or emergencies, among others.
The mobile platform is perhaps the best way for the government to get in touch with the people when required, maybe, even better than television or radio, as the mobile phone is carried personally. SMS notifications raising awareness about how to prevent forest fires, notifying residents of a particular area about an event, or to direct residents to a rallying point following a disaster are messages that the public will need and appreciate. Text and voice messaging is the best and an essential part of how to reach the people.
Commercial ads are not essential information that is required by the people. Therefore, the two cannot be grouped together and an option must be provided.
Some may want to receive SMS ads about school admissions, or the latest vehicle in the market. Some would not be bothered if their inbox is flooded with SMS ads on a daily basis.
There may only be a few now who are annoyed and concerned that they do not have the option of unsubscribing from SMS ads, but with the country’s economy expanding, there will be more SMS ads and as a result, more annoyed customers.
If it is a policy decision not to provide an option, then the availability of an option should be provided immediately.
If it is a technical limitation, then it is timely that the necessary investments are made to provide the option as soon as possible.
This is because some users are correctly pointing out that their privacy is being violated when their numbers are shared with third parties. This is a valid concern.
Just because you are a customer of a company does not mean that you belong to that company. You are paying for a service. You are not the company’s property on which profits can be maximized.
It may also be time for concerned agencies like the Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority to intervene and update rules related to privacy and confidentiality of end-users.