Suffer: Rise of text spam creates ugly dilemma for mobile users

The number of junk text messages in the U.S. reportedly rose to 4.5 billion last year. This can create a nasty choice for consumers — pay to be spammed or pay protection money to a carrier.

For anyone out there lucky enough not to have received one, spam texts are unwanted ads or scam promotions sent directly to your cell phone. It feels as intrusive as a stranger in your bathroom. Bloomberg reports that the volume of these messages soared 45 percent last year.

The problem is not the just invasive nature of the text but that many users also face the indignity of paying for those intrusions. Unless a user has an unlimited texting plan, she may have to pay 20 cents for every inane, unwanted text message that hits her cell phone.

And therein lies the rub. Today, free messaging services like Kik or WhatsApp mean many users may not want to pay for a text plan at all. But the requirement to pay for incoming messages means that people may feel compelled to buy the carrier plans as a form of spam insurance. Worse, the phone carriers have jacked texting plans from $5 to $20 — all this for tiny bits of data that cost virtually nothing to transport.

The Federal Trade Commission is trying to get on top of the problem and, according to Bloomberg, has prosecuted a handful of spam senders. But ironically, it’s legitimate companies like Timberland and Jiffy Lube who have paid the most in penalties — these companies are easy prey for class action lawyers who wait for them to bungle a marketing campaign and then sue for millions under the Telemarketing and Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). Companies like Twilio that offer “club-texting” services are also facing class actions.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports the wireless industry is looking into acquiring anti-spam services like San Francisco based Cloudmark. The industry is also grousing about the costs of investigating consumer spam complaints.

The text spam problem is real but consumers should not be in the position of paying for these privacy invasions. The FCC should force the carriers to cease charging for incoming messages until the spam menace is solved.

The reported 4.5 billion text spam messages were among the 2.3 trillion sent overall last year.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock user [Lukiyanova Natalia / frenta].