Consumers Association of Penang

Giving voice to the little people...since 1970

Need to review role of Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission

CAP today calls on the Ministry of Information Communications and Culture to take action against the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) for failure in playing their role as a regulatory body for multimedia matters.

This call is made in view of the uprising number of complaints made by consumers against Content Providers in ripping off consumers through their various modus operandi. It is bad enough that multimedia users are subjected to spam, spoofing, fraud etc. to rip them off, but when licensed entities also rip consumers off by breaching the laws and regulations that they promise to abide with when applying for their licences, it is intolerable.

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The (MCMC) has so far issued about 800 licences to Content Providers (CP). It states that it "implements the self regulatory regime whereby it is the obligation for the licensees to ensure compliance to relevant laws and its subsidiary legislation". Hence, "the licensed CP is obligated to ensure services offered under its short code are in full compliance with the Mandatory Standards and any non-compliance may lead them to a penalty of up to RM100,000.00 or jail, or both".

However, this is far from true as endless complaints about the modus operandi of the CPs have been received reflecting on the inadequacy of enforcement by the MCMC. The MCMC cannot shift the burden of complying with the law onto the CPs citing "self regulation". Because MCMC's enforcement does not inflict enough pain on the CPs and the industry generally, it gives rise to an attitude not to bother about the law. This results in large numbers of consumers being at the mercy of the CPs and Service Providers.

Consumers complain of receiving endless streams of unsolicited SMS goading them to send activation codes for services which they do not need or want. Many of these are misleading and in breach of the Mandatory Standards for the Provision of Mobile Content Services (Determination No. 4 of 2009). The MCMC claims it carries out monitoring internally. If so it should be able to discover the breaches and take immediate action. But the complaints we receive do not reflect this.

Case 1 - Celcom customer monitored the unsolicited SMS he received from Dec 2009 to July 2011 (excluding missed call, billing and from contacts). Of the 25 unsolicited sms, 96% were confirmed unlawful by the MCMC, with 68% being in breach of 1 to 4 provisions of the Mandatory Standards for the Provision of Mobile Content Services (Determination No. 4 of 2009).

Case 2 - Maxis customer recorded receiving 56 unsolicited SMS from June 2010 to Dec 2010. MCMC confirmed 91% were "non-compliant" and 3.5% in breach of the Standard. This customer asked Maxis to stop sending all unsolicited SMS, and Maxis agreed. However, within days, the unsolicited SMS started coming again. Between Jan 2011 and Feb 2012 another 64 unsolicited SMS were recorded. The MCMC confirmed 40% were not compliant and 56% in breach of the Standard.

Consumers are particularly annoyed with the content providers that keep sending them unsolicited SMS, 24 hours a day, and misleading and pestering them to accept content that they do not want.

Many consumers have complained about being entrapped by the devious SMS messages sent to them by content providers. Some messages `direct' consumers to send certain responses, others give the impression there is no payment involved, or they have something to redeem. When they do so, they unwittingly subscribe to receive certain content for which they will have to pay. And payment is not cheap, i.e. up to RM5.00 per Content SMS sent to the consumer (perhaps even more). And the consumer has no control of how many times a day the content may be sent to him, but he pays for every time it is sent. In one case a consumer received 510 sms in 5 days, each costing RM3.00. It was blamed on a technical error in the CP's system. We have also received complaints of CPs offering FREE trial of some content (e.g. e-newspaper) for a short period, and then without confirming with the customer, migrating him to a paid subscription of the service.

What it means is that the CPs do not fear the regulatory body, the MCMC. Investigating possible breaches of the Standards is taking too long. When this happens, consumers feel that the MCMC is either inefficient or favouring the CPs.

The MCMCs explanation is "lack of consumer knowledge on mobile content services especially on the registration keywords and its business model that led consumers to unknowingly subscribe to the service". How are consumers expected to have the same knowledge as the CP to be on a level playing field? Obviously, the CPs are taking advantage of the consumers' ignorance of technical knowledge.

The more reason for the MCMC to go hard on the CPs that breach the Standard. The telecommunications industry is a gold mine. As such, the MCMC should be very strict. The maximum penalty should be imposed for the first offence and termination of licence for the second. The MCMC must not blame consumers for their lack of technical knowledge for the problems they have with the cps.

The problem is caused by the Service Providers (SP) misappropriating their customers' personal data which is given to them in confidence for obtaining their service. Surreptitiously obtaining their customers' "consent" to share the data through a statement hidden in micro-print in the lengthy agreement is most unethical. It is against the spirit of the Personal Data Protection Act.

The Government should put a total stop to this passing on of a person's personal data provided for a particular purpose to be used by others. Such "collaboration" is unethical and must be made illegal. Business people do not have a God given right to pass on their customers' personal data to other business people for a price.

In view of the above, CAP calls on the Ministry of Information, Communications and Culture to immediately take action and to review the functions and ineffectiveness of the MCMC in playing its role in protecting consumers.

Press Release, 8 August 2012