Blocking messages from the Internet is also unlikely to cut down on the volume of spam you receive. Sending texts from the Web used to be a popular method for mobile spammers, who could try endless random combinations of numbers in hopes of a few hits. But unlimited texting plans made that approach less attractive to spammers, who know that such messages can easily be blocked. Though it’s still worth doing, don’t expect a magic bullet.
To really put a dent in text spam, the mobile phone companies need to upgrade their spam filters. That’s expensive, and it takes time. A cynic might note that the wireless providers have little incentive to expend that effort, since it costs them essentially nothing to transmit the data, and they actually profit from spam messages received by people who don’t have unlimited texting plans. Spokespeople for Verizon and AT&T insisted to me that they’re doing all they can, and noted that the volume of mobile spam remains tiny compared to email spam. Verizon, for its part, has managed to track down and sue some 20 spammers over the years.
Cloudmark, the message-security company, says domestic wireless providers may not have always made mobile spam their top priority, but they are making a genuine effort to respond now that unwanted messages are spiking stateside. The cost of fielding complaints from exasperated customers outweighs any revenue the wireless companies get from spam messages, Cloudmark’s Reading reckons. (To ensure that’s the case, follow up your spam reports by calling up your wireless provider and asking to have the relevant text-message charge removed from your bill.) Reading tells me his company’s latest spam filter has the capacity to identify and block most of the current wave of mobile scams before they reach customers. Several wireless providers are in the process of deploying it.
If he’s right, perhaps mobile spam will be held down to the level of a minor annoyance for most. But there’s also a possibility the problem will get much worse before it gets better. For a grim picture of the future, one has only to look to China, where unlimited text plans have been widely available much longer. By some estimates, a third of all text messages in China today are spam.
It’s also worth asking why the U.S. wireless carriers didn’t look to China several years ago and start preparing for the deluge. They knew unlimited texting plans were in the pipeline. They should’ve known that unlimited plans mean seemingly unlimited spam.