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Vodafone UK has announced a trial program designed to control the amount of unsolicited text messages its customers receive.

When an unsolicited text message is received a Vodafone customer can forward it, free of charge, directly to 87726 or VSPAM on their mobile keypad. Vodafone will then collate a consolidated report of all the unsolicited text messages reported by its customers, which it plans to send directly to mobile messaging regulators.

Previously when customers report an unsolicited text message to Vodafone they are advised to contact the Independent Committee for the Supervision of Standards of Telephone Information Services (ICSTIS) directly.

With this new initiative, Vodafone customers will no longer have to do this and can simply forward the message to VSPAM to allow automated reporting. Vodafone says it is the first UK operator to launch a trial initiative designed to help reduce the mobile texts nuisance.

The consolidated VSPAM report will be sent to ICSTIS on a daily basis so that it can take regulatory action against parties running such services. ICSTIS has prosecuted several service providers so far and it intends to "name and shame" the operators who currently support the service providers running these premium rate services.

Jeremy Flynn, Head of Commercial Partnerships, Vodafone UK said: "We launched VSPAM for our employees a month ago and it has proved to be an extremely valuable tool in helping to track down people who send unsolicited text messages. We recognise that this is an issue for our customers which we want to help resolve."

Premium rate SMS: saint or sinner?

Recent research into consumer awareness, experience and perception of premium rate SMS, further supports the launch of VSPAM. The findings revealed the extent of public annoyance caused by unsolicited text messages promoting premium rate numbers. Two in three (63 per cent) of all respondents to the survey had received an unsolicited text message inviting them to reply using a premium rate number and 85 per cent of those quizzed believed that there should be controls to restrict unsolicited messages, particularly those targeting children.

This is reinforced by the soaring numbers of public complaints about such messages received by ICSTIS - 3,500 in the first six months of 2003 alone.

ICSTIS Deputy Director Paul Whiteing welcomed Vodafone's initiative against unsolicited text messages.

Whiteing said: "We will continue to work with all mobile operators to identify ways to stamp out this practice so that consumers can have confidence when using premium rate services on their mobiles."

On a more positive note, the research also demonstrates the popular appeal that legitimate premium rate SMS services have with customers. The research showed an encouraging level of public awareness and confidence in premium rate SMS services that deliver text and other content to mobile handsets. Nearly 50 per cent of respondents had used a premium rate SMS at least once, with ringtone downloads being the most popular service. Convenience and usefulness were cited as the major reasons for using services and only 11 per cent of respondents had encountered any problems.

The 13 million customers of Vodafone's UK network send out more than 10 million text messages every day, according to the mobile operator. ®

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