Changing China

Giant on the move

Spam text-messaging hell

March 20, 2009

Psst, want a gun? Or an illegal satellite television connection? What about some porn?

It’s all on offer in China, judging by the spam text messages and solicitation calls to mobile telephones in the world’s biggest mobile phone market. Black and gray-market goods have proliferated via free-wheeling texting spam that has become a menace.

Some messages offer increasingly desperate sounding offers for real estate as economic growth pulls back sharply and demand dries up.

But a lot of it is actually quite funny.

More than a few are scams, hoping to snare the gullible in mobile phone-obsessed China.

“I’m pregrant and it’s all your fault,” reads one from an anonymous woman, who demands money and includes her supposed friend’s bank account details.

“I’m going to get rid of it tomorrow, and the consequences will be on you for the rest of your life,” it concludes — unless you pay up, of course.

Another offers titillation.

“Do you want to know what Miss Chen got up to with her boss on the business trip?” it says, providing a telephone number to listen in to her sexual antics.

Then there are the offers for revenge, selling guns and other weapons to settle personal scores, though these types of message have tailed off of late.

The government, telephone companies and regulators periodically pledge crackdowns on the flood of spam, but to little apparent effect. Spam texts come through at all hours, even in the middle of the night.

Other countries have similar problems, of course, but a particularly Chinese twist comes in the form of advertisements for “fa piao”, or receipts that by law have to be provided to tax authorities for auditing of business expenses. As a result, a robust black market has developed for receipts that can be used to justify reimbursements for “expenses” such as meals and travel. Hawkers use any number of creative games with the language of text messages to skirt filters and reach potential customers. 

Instead of using the actual Chinese characters for “fa piao”, they alter them slightly, transforming the meaning but not the pronunciation, a little as you would in English by changing a spelling to slip past spam filters.

Responding to these texts, and asking not to be contacted again, has little effect.

A friend of mine was becoming increasingly miffed at texts offering emigration advice to Canada. She happened to be Canadian, and sent a message back, asking whether they could remove her number from their list because she was already a citizen.

The texts continued to flow.

Photo caption: In a file photo, a man receives a call on his mobile phone at Beijing’s Wangfujing Street Jan. 7, 2009. REUTERS/Jason Lee


Just another price we all have to pay for supporting unfettered capitalism? There is only one answer pro tem – make the ‘phone networks responsible for stopping all unsolicited texts and fine them meaningful amounts if they don’t stop them: this means they will have to gather reliable information on their subscribers before allowing them loose on their ‘phones…I loathe spammers on e-mail with a passion – I spend much time setting up filters – why should I do this – the public need proper legislation to stop this highly intrusive behaviour. It is a totally inexcusable and utterly unacceptable practice which must stop.

Posted by Larry | Report as abusive

Thank God, in India with about 300 million mobile connections the Service providers have something called Do Not Disturb – but then these spammers have found a way around it. But the system has prohibitively expensive clauses built into it to punish them.


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