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US operator AT&T decided to let customers know about American Idol by sending a "significant number" of them a text message about it, without asking first.

The show is sponsored by AT&T, and was among the first in the US to screw more cash out of viewers by text voting, but until now it's not been promoted by text message, and viewers seem unimpressed by the move.

US mobile phone users generally pay to receive text messages (yes, hard to imagine from this side of the pond), and AT&T defended itself by saying that these messages were delivered free, but that's hardly an excuse for bothering people. The company also told the New York Times that their message can't be classed as spam on the grounds that customers could opt out of receiving future messages by replying with the word "stop" - clearly nothing resembling spam, then.

The economic downturn has seen all sorts of companies dusting off their mailing lists and trying different ways to get hold of customers. Here at Vulture Towers we've seen a marked increase in marketing messages from companies we've dealt with in the past, including some we've not heard from for years, but not by text message.

The use of text messages for promotional purposes is tightly controlled in the UK, though cost is still the most significant barrier to more use. Most of the text spam seen is sent from hacked servers operated by interconnected operators abroad, though the line between legitimate marketing and spam isn't always clear.

Operators themselves rarely stoop to such measures, for fear of exactly the kind of backlash that AT&T is now experiencing. ®

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