Waspa’s Buongiorno mess continues

The Wireless Application Service Providers’ Association (Waspa) is still engaged in legal discussions with multinational “mobile content developer” Buongiorno over contraventions of its code of conduct.

BusinessTech learned in July that these proceedings were taking place – though industry insiders have indicated that they have “escalated into something more serious”.

Waspa had not returned request for comment by time of publication.

Buongiorno is a multinational mobile content developer that has come under scrutiny for its banner advertisements and “competitions” which draw mobile and web users into subscription services – which can charge up to R6 per day.

The full scope of the recent claims against Buongiorno was highlighted by Moneyweb journalist, Julius Cobbett, focussing on the online banner adverts which entice web users to click through, with the promise of winning prizes.

Clicking the ads leads to a page requesting a cell number which, if entered and followed through the verification process, will sign users up for a subscription service that costs R5 a day.

Pop Up ad
Pop Up ad

Repeat offender

Aside from these recent complaints, however, Buongiorno and its predecessor, iTouch, have had a poor track record with Waspa, itself, with a number of resolved and pending complaints against it echoing the same or similar scenarios.

Since inception, Waspa has fined errant members a total of R17.8 million, according to reports. Of this total, R2.9 million – or 16% of the issued total – were issued to Buongiorno (South Africa and UK combined) and iTouch in fines.

This is more than any other Waspa member.

As per the regulator’s website, of the 68 complaints lodged with Waspa in 2012 alone, 26 are against Buongiorno. Ten of these complaints, dating as far back as January, are still pending review.

However, despite the constant complaints against the company, to-date, Buongiorno’s adverts remain active, and the company remains a member of Waspa.

recent compliants
Recent WASPA compliants

Nowhere to turn

In a Waspa adjudication against Buongiorno, it was suggested that a finding into the complaints brought against the company “is more properly the domain of the Advertising Standards Authority”.

However, when these complaints were brought to the Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa (asasa), the motions were subsequently dismissed  to “avoid conflict” with Waspa’s adjudication procedures:

We have dicussed the matter in depth with Waspa, and it appears that [the] concerns raised with them (Waspa) are very similar to the complaints before us.

We have subsequently over viewed these complaints and wish to advise that we are procedurally barred from investigating the matter and will accordingly be closing our file.

According to the ASA’s procedural guide, the body cannot make any rulings on matters which are being looked at by another regulatory body, such as Waspa.

This effectively removes any alternative path of action for complainants who take their disputes to Waspa – the body that is meant to deal with such cases .

In its adjudication of the matter, Waspa found that Buonjourno was not in contravention of its code of conduct, excepting in the manner in which the web banners in question were presented to web browsers.

To date, little regarding the banners has changed, although some now indicate that they are part of a subscription service.

Pop Up ad fixed
Pop Up ad, “fixed”

Failure to act

Waspa has drawn criticism in the past for being ineffective in dealing with WASPs.

Waspa is recognized as the self-regulating body for WASPs in South Africa – however, the body remains rooted and dependent on the companies and members which it is supposed to regulate.

WASPs pay a monthly fee to be a member, and membership is required in order to do business with South African mobile network operators, Vodacom, MTN and Cell C.

According to an industry source, it is understood that Buongiorno is one of the largest WASPs signed up with the organization.

What is being done?

When asked why Buongiorno was still listed as a Waspa member, despite being a repeat offender in constant contravention of the organizations code of conduct, the regulator provided no comment.

BusinessTech queried Waspa further for clarity on what is going on with the Buongiorno case, and was told that the talks are still ongoing.

Waspa could not provide any time-frame as to when a decision or result would be produced by time of publication.

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Waspa’s Buongiorno mess continues