UK operators have this week unified on the 7726 spam reporting service they've been quietly using for some time. This should have happened long ago.

Ever heard of the SMS 7726 shortcode? Ask that question of the average UK mobile phone customer and the overwhelming majority will stare at you blankly.  In fact, it’s the little-known number (which spells ‘SPAM’ on the keypad) consumers can use to report unsolicited text messages which in Britain are mostly made up of urgent exhortations to make PPI insurance claims, be approved for payday loans, claim for accidents at work, liberate pension funds and any number of other dubious services.

This system is important because it offers an industry-wide system for detecting text spam in real time. If consumers get into the habit of using it every time they receive an unwanted text, operators can in theory de-commission the SIMs spammers deploy inside industrial-sized racks to send these messages on a vast scale.

If you’ve never received one of these texts you probably don’t own a mobile phone or are just incredibly lucky because figures from firms in this space such as Cloudmark show that the spammers have spent most of the last five years sending countless millions of these messages in campaigns lasting from days to weeks.

Less well recorded are the effects of this deluge has had on ordinary mobile users, an unknown number of whom either replied (thus confirming their mobile was live, guaranteeing even more spam in future) or, even worse, ended up out of pocket after getting involved with these companies through their expensive middle-man rackets.

Good news then that the ICO in conjunction with mobile operators has finally agreed to more actively promote the GSMA’s recommendation that all operators start using an publicising the Cloudmark-powered 7726 service which lets people report these messages at no cost by forwarding them.

Before the networks start basking in feelgood PR, it’s worth remembering that this system was first trialled four years ago and was formally recommended for adoption by operators by the GSMA in 2011. Networks will defend themselves against the charge of tardiness by pointing out that they’ve operated the 7726 service for some time in addition to running network-specific reporting services.

What they didn't do was make enough effort to pubicise this service, hence the widespread ignorance that it even exists. It’s a huge pity it has taken until 2014 and the guiding hand of the ICO to create a unified response to the SMS spam, which has left consumers badly out of pocket. The only thing that has stemmed the tide of unwanted text messages in recent years has been ICO actions against specific spammers that have exploited the legal loophole that while sending spam can be construed as an abuse, the exploitative services they offered could not.

Operators forgot to publicise their own spam-reporting services, let’s hope they finally, belatedly, put more effort behind 7726.

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