Spam SMS messages drop following ICO penalty

The number of spam SMS messages has significantly reduced since government regulator ICO issued £440,000 fines last year

The number of spam SMS messages has significantly reduced since a government regulator fined two individuals £440,000 in November 2012 for sending out PPI spam text messages.

It was the first time the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) had acted against SMS spammers, and the punishment appears to have had a positive effect on the number of spam text messages sent out since the end of 2012.

The number of payment protection insurance (PPI) spam text messages sent as a percentage of all SMS spam last October was 57%. This figure dropped to 47% in November – when the fine was issued – and dropped again to 23% in February 2013, rising slightly to 26% in March. 

The data was collated by Cloudmark, which runs the GSMA's global spam reporting service, through which individuals forward spam messages to operators via the 7726 shortcode. Cloudmark uses the data to tackle the issue of spam, by closing down the SIM cards that are sending the SMS spam and then sharing this information with the ICO.

The US has also come down hard on SMS spam violations, calling for more government and regulatory involvement. Recently, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) took action against 29 individuals who were sending messages falsely offering free gift cards and prizes. This type of spam dropped from over 50% of daily SMS spam to less than 10% after the charges set by the FTC.

“PPI spam represented around half of the reported spam for most of last year, but now accounts for less than a quarter," said Chris Barton, senior security research director at Cloudmark. "This evidence, alongside the impact shown by the FTC's actions in the US, suggests that regulators have a significant part to play in tackling spammers."

Reach more on ICO fines

The two individuals fined by the ICO in November were Christopher Niebel and Gary McNeish, who were guilty of sending millions of spam messages promoting compensation or PPI claims. 

Cloudmark claimed that targeting these two men has reduced the number of spam messages in circulation, as well as setting an example to similar organisations, which may have reduced their spam campaigns to avoid prosecution.   

“There are a number of reasons why the PPI spam has reduced since the Information Commissioner’s Office actions in November. Initially, there is the direct impact on the sending party, but I suspect we’re also seeing their competition toning down campaigns to try to fly under the radar,” said Barton.

Cloudmark claimed that due to actions by government regulators globally, there has been a drop of nearly 20% of SMS spam from January to March of this year.  

In 2012, approximately 575 million SMS spam texts were sent to mobile users every day worldwide, with 45 million SMS spam messages sent every day in Europe alone. 

Additionally, there were 350,000 different variants of unsolicited SMS messages globally, with 53,000 variants logged in December 2012 alone.

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