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NTT DoCoMo pays $217m to put spam back into the can

i-Mode users deluged with junk e-mail

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Japanese telecoms giant NTT DoCoMo will have to spend a staggering ¥27 billion ($217 million) to placate users of its popular i-Mode mobile phones who are been deluged by junk mail.

When i-Mode launched in 1999 it seemed like a cunning plan to automatically generate email addresses for i-Mode customers, based on the number of their mobile phone.

This sounds convenient for customers but its also makes it all to easy for mass marketing firms to bombard 24 million i-Mode users with "mobile spam", simply by generating random 11-digit email addresses using a simple computer program.

DoCoMo, which unlike its competitor J-Phone (which has 10 million subscribers), charges users ¥2 to receive an email, has received tens of thousands of complaints about spam.

A campaign by DoCoMo to encourage users to change their email addresses so that they include letters, making it difficult for junk email merchants to guess email addresses, has failed to encourage more than a third of users to act. To soothe user disquiet over the issue, DoCoMo has decided to go further and compensate its customers.

NTT DoCoMo spokesman Norio Hasegawa told Reuters that it had decided to give users ¥120 ($1) a month of free data transmission for each customer, starting in August. This will cost the firm an estimated ¥27 billion in revenue for its current financial year.

Hasegawa told the agency that i-Mode services were due for a price cut anyway, but discounted the possibility that DoCoMo might introduce free incoming e-mail.

"We brought the fee cut forward because of the current difficulty," said Hasegawa, who added DoCoMo was considering legal action against organisations that have sent out bulk email messages to its customers.

A recent survey by market research firm Macromill.com suggested 77 per cent of i-Mode users had received email from organisations running dating and friendship sites. This makes a change from get rich quick schemes and plugs for porn sites Hotmail users know and hate, but is still a major irritant for i-Mode users.

We hope that European and US carriers rolling out services that make it easier to pick up emails on the move will learn for the Japanese experience and design their systems to guard against next-generation spam. Failure to do so could prove to be a costly mistake... ®

External Links

Junk E-Mail Costs NTT $216 Million (Reuters via International Herald Tribune)

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