SMS spam has a long, long way to go before catching up with email spam. Ferris, a research firm, estimated that in 2007 1.1 million spam messages were sent via SMS. They also said that this is up 38% from 2006. Sure, that is a big jump, and we will continue to see these numbers climb. But note that there are billions of email spam messages sent on a daily basis; there is no comparison. Also think about the ratio of cell phone users to number of spam messages. There are currently 250 million Americans with cell phones, so Ferris’ figure is considerably less than one spam message per cell phone. Below are the reasons why SMS spam will never reach the heights we see with email:
1. It is expensive:
a. Short codes: Any Joe Blow can purchase a domain from Godaddy.com for $9.00 a month. Spam can then be sent from this fake domain. To send true SMS messages, you need a short code. Not only does this code take six to eight weeks to set up (while being heavily vetted by carriers), but the code will run you $1,500 to $3,000 per quarter. Also there are private registers, so everyone will know who owns your short code; there is no hiding behind private domains.
b. Messages: Unlike email in which your only cost is bandwidth (or a server license if you are licensing good email delivery software), an SMS message costs anywhere between $.005 to $.10 per message. With spam conversion rates of .001% or less, sending SMS messages is just too costly for any spammer.
2. Inconvenient call-to-action: When you get an email via spam there is a link back to a site with the ability to take credit cards. You have a keyboard in front of you and you can quickly and easily type in your billing info, shipping address etc. You can sell anything you want because of the user experience of the desktop. However, this changes dramatically with cell phones. Most of the SMS spam we see today is completely mobile-related. Spammers are pushing products like ringtones and wallpaper; the download takes place on the phone and the fulfillment could be as easy as replying ”YES” to a message. The cell phone is a very inconvenient call-to-action; SMS spam ends up being more about branding which makes absolutely no sense for spammers.
3. Messaging is controlled: If you want to send a real SMS message, you need to go through an SMPP connection. These connections are managed by aggregators. You also need to register and set up a short code that an aggregator would host for you. Aggregators have a binds or connections into the carriers to send messages out. These are only a few binds per carrier per aggregator. If a carrier operations team saw spam coming out from one of these binds, they would either shut it down or tell the aggregator about it, which would turn your account off before you know what hit you. Imagine if email worked this way. Imagine if AOL controlled things and there was only a handful of connections or servers that you could send email from. Instead email is just the opposite; anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can send mail. There are hundreds of millions of people online thus hundreds of millions of ways to send email spam.
4. SMTP sucks: So you are probably thinking sending spam via SMPP makes no sense and most people wouldn’t do it anyways. SMTP is the way to go if you are a spammer, right? No. Here is where you should probably read my post titled SMTP vs. SMPP. To recap, it is possible to send someone an SMS message by sending an email to their firstname.lastname@example.org. However not only does SMTP have major delivery issues (which I point out in my article), but bulk messaging via SMTP is a very hard thing to do. Spamming is all about volume – your conversion rates are so low that you need to send millions and millions of message to make any money. Years ago when our Stun! system only sent SMTP messages out, we started to see major blocking of sends that were larger than 1,000 people. It became apparent that the carriers were monitoring these connections and if they saw too much volume they would just trash the messages. The carriers created these cell phone number email addresses for transactional-based messaging, not bulk. If you can’t send bulk as a spammer, you are dead in the water.
5. Lack of reporting: Spammers love to figure out what addresses are real, what addresses open their email, and what addresses click on links. They can then focus their efforts accordingly. The problem with both SMPP and SMPT is the lack of reporting. The spammer has to take blind shots in the dark in hopes to hit cell phone numbers that are real.
If I were you, I wouldn’t worry too much about SMS spam. Mobile viruses on the other hand – watch your back!
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