never heard of it wap billingWhere “silent charging”? WAP is the acronym for Wireless Application Protocol, i.e. Wireless Application Protocol – a technology that allows mobile phones to access the Internet. So far so good, isn’t it? It turns out that this technology, by which phones “communicate” with “guest sites”, allows these sites to capture and store information about each device that distinguishes it from all others – the MSISDNor International directory number of mobile station subscribers.
This number is fundamental in this story. what does this have to do with those annoying pop-ups that appear more and more when you’re on the net: when you try to get rid of them you can, without realizing it, click in the wrong place – and be the victim of click jackingthat is to say theft by the click.
The same thing happened to my mother, who is 91 and, I learned this Sunday, she had been paying about 8 euros a month on her MEO bill since March for something that was described as “Content – Digital Promotions – Subscription” – without further explanation, and without her noticing, because the payment is made by debit.
And unknowingly paying would continue if you hadn’t told me to delete the text messages on your phone. That’s how I came across a letter dated February that said “Playvod (SP) service subscription ended. Price 1.99 euros/week”. A link followed if you wanted to cancel. As I explained to my mother that she should ignore text messages from unknown sources and never click on links, because of scams (Phishing), she ignored what seemed to her to be the same, because, naturally, she had not taken out any subscriptions.
Having with a Google search realized that Playvod is the name of a game provider belonging to the Altice universe, i.e. the company that owns MEO, I started checking my mom’s bills. Noting that the 1.99 euros per week had been billed to him since March, I called MEO to demand immediate cancellation and reimbursement of the sums billed. The person who answered me even tried this usual bullshit conversation, assuring me that the operator “has no responsibility for this collection, because it belongs to another company”, but ended up doing what it was asked, without however failing to repeat until the end that MEO “limits itself to being an intermediary”. Out of sheer goodness of heart, of course; not receive a share of the proceeds of theft.
It was only after recounting this experience on Twitter that I first read, in the countless replies that told me of similar events, the expression wap billing.
So I decided to try to understand what it was all about and how such a manifestly abusive practice, which fits like a glove to the definition of the offense of fraud – “Whoever, with the intention of obtaining for himself or for a third party an illegitimate enrichment, by error or deception on facts which he has underhandedly provoked, induces another person to commit acts which cause it, or cause to the other a patrimonial damage” – have not yet been subject to intervention by the authorities.
First, ANACOM, the telecommunications regulator. This, I learned, in 2017 made a recommendation to telecommunications companies – telecoms – along the lines of require their subscribers “to pay for digital content or services other than electronic communications made available only when they have previously, expressly and specifically authorized them to pay for each of the aforementioned content or services, by a declaration on any durable medium “.
The Directorate-General for Consumers has also produced a digital leaflet in which it recommends that consumers “be careful”alerting them to the possibility of receiving SMS informing them of subscriptions to services of which they are not aware, and that “cancellation may incur additional charges”. still recommend asking “prohibit the service to the operator” and, if the operator does not do so, “report the situation to the ASAE”, because “the non-compliance with various diplomas, namely the regime of contracts concluded at a distance, may be involved.” Finally, he warns: you must “avoid browsing on unknown sites”.
Yes, it’s true: the state entity whose role is to defend consumers, in addition to informing them that they are at their own risk and peril (and even implying that they have gone where they should not have), seems unsure that it is illegal to charge for a service that the person did not hire.
Sometimes it’s called “a special collection operation”, isn’t it?
Nobody would say that there are billing laws for invalid contracts. From the outset, the consumer protection law, which establishes, in number 4 of article 9: “The consumer is not obliged to pay for goods or services which he has not previously and expressly ordered or requested, or which do not constitute the execution of a valid contract. (…).” Plus Legislative Decree 24/2014 of February 14, which prohibits “the collection of any type of payment in connection with the unsolicited supply of goodswater, gas, electricity, district heating or digital content or the provision of services not requested by the consumer (…).”
And no one would say that as early as 2013, in the United States, a company was forced by the local ASAE (the Federal Trade Commission) to reimburse all injured parties for the sums invoiced by wap billing and a fine of 1.2 million euros, with a federal rule requiring that all charges be expressly authorized.
The problem isn’t just the DGC, though. THE ANACOM says it has no legal jurisdiction to act because companies like Playvod are not for electronic communications, but for content. Therefore, he has already recommended to the government and parliament to legislate to oblige operators to charge only with their express consent. To respect the law, therefore.
This ANACOM recommendation dates from 2019, after being presented to parliament in 2018 a public petition to end the unlawful shamelessness that is this “silent” accusation. Without any practical effect, since, as we can see, nothing has changed – even if, until the recent dissolution of the Assembly of the Republic, the (long delayed) work of transposing a new European directive on electronic communications was in course, with the hearing of several authorities.
Strangely, I did not find any position of the National Data Protection Commission – one of the entities heard – on a subject in which there seems to me to be clearly appropriation or unlawful use of personal data. First of all, the identification number of each phone – by which companies that “steal the click” reach the specific telecom with which the person has a contract, which in turn, and when participating in the withdrawal, uses the customer’s data to charge him a fee for a service he never contracted. If not to prevent this, what good is the General Data Protection Regulation?