Users of new SIM cards should only get marketing messages from their mobile operator, South African networks told MyBroadband.
We recently purchased and activated SIM cards from South Africa’s four major mobile operators.
We found that once the SIMs were inserted into our test phone, the respective mobile operators started sending welcoming and onboarding SMSes which included information on how to buy bundles and check balances.
These were followed by a flurry of marketing and campaign messages directly from the operators.
However, the Vodacom phone number started receiving spam messages for fake fund inheritances and airtime competitions from third parties.
One possible cause for this is the fact that certain old numbers are recycled and used for new SIM cards.
Unsolicited marketing is not only irritating but is regulated by legislation such as the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) and Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA).
According to ISPA, The CPA determines that consumers may refuse to accept, request the discontinuation of or pre-emptively block direct marketing communication.
Further to this, opt-out requests must be honoured by marketing companies
POPIA, which came into full effect as of 1 July 2020, places further limitations on when a party may engage in direct marketing through unsolicited communications.
This requires consumers to explicitly consent to receiving marketing or for there to be an existing relationship between parties such as a contract.
MyBroadband asked the major mobile operators which marketing messages new customers would receive by default.
Vodacom explained that it sent messages to both contract and prepaid SIMs as soon as they are connected to its network.
“Postpaid customers receive an SMS welcoming them and explaining their new tariff plan,” Vodacom said.
“Prepaid customers receive an automated message or system-generated message as soon as they connect with their new number,” Vodacom added.
“From time to time, new customers including those with recycled numbers receive promotional and campaign messages about our products and services, as well as functional messages that explain how to recharge, check balance, and more.”
Customers can opt-out of these marketing messages, Vodacom stated.
“With every promotional or campaign message, there is an opt-out instruction at the end of the message. Customers can easily SMS the shortcode to opt-out.”
Vodacom cautioned that it was possible that customers could also receive messages from third parties if they were using a recycled number.
This was because the previous user of the number may have subscribed to these services.
“Customers can opt-out of these on a case-by-case basis,” Vodacom noted.
MTN Executive for Corporate Affairs Jacqui O’Sullivan said that in most cases the only marketing communication users will get will come from the operator itself.
“The company does not share information with external suppliers to market their products unless a subscriber opted-in to this option. Third parties can contact subscribers during their tenure with MTN on behalf of MTN, but it is not a default after connection,” O’Sullivan said.
“New postpaid customers receive system notifications via SMS to confirm the upgrade and service allocations such as data and airtime allocation,” O’Sullivan stated.
They are then sent an onboarding pack via email which reminds them of the most important numbers and actions they have to perform during their contract term.
“Depending on the plan, relevant information will be shared. Direct communication and promotions will be shared with subscribers who have opted-in to marketing communications, these marketing communication messages are tailored to the subscriber’s profile and usage,” she explained.
For prepaid customers, the welcome journey that onboards new customers to the network, providing essential numbers and information will be received over a few days.
New prepaid customers will also receive details about offers and how to access these.
“We stagger the messages in order to not overwhelm customers with information,” O’Sullivan said.
“Recycled numbers do not receive information on MTN products the previous user was signed up for. If the previous customer had signed up for services from third-parties prior to the number being recycled, the new customer might receive messages from those parties.”
However, because of the length of time required to deactivate a SIM, most third parties will have stopped marketing to a number by the point that it is recycled.
Cell C said that by default the only marketing messages it sends to its customers are its own communications.
“Cell C sends informative messages to explain how to buy bundle, how to manage your data and voice usage, and how to check your credit and balance,” the operator said.
Customers are able to opt out of marketing communication from Cell C by visiting the Cell C website, logging into their account and changing settings under “Contact Preference” in “My Details”.
“Cell C doesn’t use old data to campaign the customer, and so recycled numbers won’t receive marketing from Cell C that the new user didn’t sign up for.
It did note, however, that marketing from WASPs could still be sent to recycled numbers.
“All WASP partners are responsible for their own marketing and Cell C has no control over whether they are sending marketing campaigns to a recycled number or not,”
“All of the marketing conducted by WASP Partners falls under the guidance of the WASPA Code of Conduct.”
Telkom said that no marketing messages from external parties are sent to its customers by default.
Telkom does, however, send an automated system welcome message to all new prepaid SIMs on the network.
This is a network generated message, no third marketing company is being used to directly contact the customer when their service is activated.
“This is followed by customer onboarding messages.”
“For Post-paid and Hybrid plans, once the sim is activated and inserted into a handset the first message that the customer receives is a link to the Telkom app.”
‘This allows the customer to view their plans, check balances and purchase voice, data and SMS bundles. OTA settings for internet and MMS services are also sent to the customer.”
Telkom said that from a network perspective, no previous user data is carried over when a number is recycled.
“Recycled numbers are quarantined for a period of 120 days before being eligible for re-use,” Telkom explained.
However, it said that new users could receive marketing content from third-party companies since these normally only keep records of the MSISDN (phone number) of the customer and not the personal particulars of users.
“Even in the event that the marketing company does hold the personal particulars of an old user, the new user is now in possession of the MSISDN and may, therefore, receive the content intended to the previous user,” Telkom said,