Updated 12:36 p.m. to fix an editing error in the first paragraph.
Touch or Alfa mobile users in Lebanon: You might want to check your messages to see if you have been subscribed to “Semme3ni, “a ring-back tone/RBT service, without your consent.
A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I received SMSes from “Samme3ni” telling us that “we are glad to offer you a free ‘Samme3ni’ tone, for a period of 1 month.” Without our consent, we had been subscribed to a service that we had to take action to delete, if we wanted to avoid being charged after the free period expired. The message advised to send ‘D’ for free to 1151, which I did successfully, but when my wife did so—twice—she received this message:
Operation failed. To delete Samme3ni tone, dial 1002 (extra1USD/min) or 1001 (extra 0.9USD/min), or send “Delete” to1002 (extra 0.9USD/SMS). Thank you.
So not only could she not delete the ring tone, but also she would actually have to pay more than the monthly subscription rate of 0.70USD to get this unwanted intruder off her phone.
I complained on Facebook and discovered that many of my friends have been questioning this service and have also been victims of this seeming scam. Wadih, a human rights activist, asked the reason behind enforcing the opt-in on users. Amer Tabsh, a technologist and TV host mentioned that without any anti-spam law, little can be done on this issue. He suggested that the sector needs to be privatized to have this and other problems solved. Others like Sea Jea didn’t agree with Tabsh’s assessment, and mentioned the need to amend telecom legislation, specifically Law 431. Others—Rana, Hiba, Jana, and Ibrahim—shared similar experiences and how they were enforced to pay fees for a service they didn’t ask for in the first place.
We relayed the situation to Dr. Walid Karam, a consultant to the minister of telecommunications. A few days later, Dr. Karam shared a comment on the same thread that the Ministry of Telecommunications (MOT) has officially informed the mobile operators of the need to enforce a free opt-out of this service, not the end of the story, perhaps, but definitely a step in the right direction.
What should happen next:
- The Ministry of Telecommunication and the Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (TRA) should organize this field and adapt anti-spam regulations for mobiles and email similar to regulations in other parts of the world, where double opt-in is the standard
- Alfa and Touch should remove the enforced opt-in (they subscribe you) and replace it with optional opt-in (you subscribe yourself) for this and other services
- Alfa and Touch should protect users’ data and develop public user data protection policies that guarantee that personal data won’t be shared with third-party companies without users’ permission
- Finally, as a user, you should remove this service if you didn’t request it by calling your provider and registering a complaint.