4 Reasons Why Spammers Love Long Codes

The following is the weekly guest series by Derek Johnson, Founder & CEO of SMS marketing provider Tatango. You can text him at (206) 334-4012 or email him at derek@tatango.com. There’s …

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The following is the weekly guest series by Derek Johnson, Founder & CEO of SMS marketing provider Tatango. You can text him at (206) 334-4012 or email him at derek@tatango.com.

There’s been a lot of noise lately in the mobile marketing industry about long codes, some are even questioning if these will be the death of short codes. I’m still bearish on long codes as the carriers have yet to come out publicly and give their approval for long code A2P (application to person) messaging. This post though isn’t about long codes being approved or not approved by the carriers, or even if long codes are a good substitute for short codes. This post is about why I feel text message spammers are on the verge of a mass exodus away from short codes to long codes.

Here are my three reasons why text message spammers will love long codes, and in-turn will make the migration.

1. Low Messaging Costs – There is one thing that all spammers have in common, if there are two methods of spamming that achieve the same results, they will always pick the cheapest method. Sending messages through a long code is significantly cheaper than through a short code, especially when you factor in the cost to setup and manage a short code.

2. Easy Setup – Screw applying for a short code, waiting, signing contracts with aggregators, waiting, submitting campaigns to the carriers for approvals and waiting some more. With long codes, there are no approvals, no setup fees, really nothing getting in the way of spammers sending their first text message.

3. No Stupid Rules – Spammers don’t want to have to comply with stupid rules and audits of those rules, that kind of stuff just gets in the way of spamming. With long codes, no one is watching, so feel free to say fuck you to the MMA Best Practices, the mobile carriers, the CTIA, etc.

4. Hiding is Easy – Have you ever tried to find out who to blame for those long code spam messages you’ve been receiving? It’s nearly impossible, even with the almighty Google. Spammers love staying anonymous, and with short codes that is hard to do with things like the U.S. Short Code Directory. With long codes though, spammers are able to cycle through batches of different phone numbers with each and every campaign, dodging detection with every message.

Now that I think about it, I actually love long codes. It’s a fact of life that there will always be people wanting to send text message spam, but with the rise of long codes, these spammers will now have a new home. After this migration to long codes, short codes will once again be a spam-free haven for SMS marketing.

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19 comments

  1.    Reply

    Now spammers are more smarter. They know that how handle the long code smartly that's why no one catch them easily.

  2.    Reply

    Spammers will be spammers no matter if it's longcode, shortcode, email, call or anything else. Where there is a tool, there is a way. What should be looked at is the service/application provider that is allowing the spammers to send their messages in the first place. The service/application provider should carefully review any and all messages that go out of their platform and should have tools in place to prevent messaging of non-opted in subscribers.

    Long codes have many benefits, some of which you pointed out in this article. Shortcodes do too. They both have their place. Either way I think marketers and application providers should be better educated and guided to prevent text spam in the first place.

  3.    Reply

    […] The lawsuit is asking for a minimum of $500 in damages for each unsolicited text message received. The interesting part about this lawsuit is that they sent the unsolicited text messages via long code, not short code. Pretty sure I called this back in 2011 when I wrote the article 4 reasons spammers love long codes. […]

  4.    Reply

    It is a shame that spammers ruin what could be a valuable tool for legit use. Shame to see technology expiring due to abuse without any practical application.

  5.    Reply

    Good thing smartphones allow us to replace sms with apps like Google Plus, Facebook and Twitter.
    Plus there are some good apps for filtering messages.

  6.    Reply

    Thats a really important point … freeing up the long codes from the exceedingly difficult shortcode process has the advantage of allowing small startups to get live with SMS. The USA has been lagging behind the rest of the world with SMS apps because its so hard to get a shortcode live quickly and affordably.

    With a little bit of sanity control the process should be cheap and easy but still tarpit the spammers. Ok, so nothing ever works out exactly as planned, but this would be a good outcome.

  7.    Reply

    […] August 2011 – Posted by Derek Johnson in category Industry Tweet This week on Mobile Marketing Watch, I explain the four reasons why text message spammers and I love long […]

  8.    Reply

    Long Codes as they are today are a result of evolution in telecom as a whole and is just like any new technology in the wrong hands. For example your home phone then your internet browsing, email and now your smart device. They are all invaded by the folks that do not have the skill to interact with their clients but throw up on their shoes. I see app pop-ups on my apps today but we don't hear that yet but its just as annoying as their predecessors. The real fact is that the spammers have already had access to what your calling long codes when cell phones and sim card banks were implemented. The next generation service that all Americans will demand is technology that bridges the gap between their legacy phone service and the mobile space where all of their clients now reside. Long Codes are that answer and will benefit more than hurt. Don't blame the gun blame the killer. Oh and by the way, when the FCC changes messaging from information service to telecom service hold onto your hat because their are laws that prevent carriers from blocking that traffic from one carrier to another. That my friend will not kill short codes it will drive them into the underground as the email, telemarketer and pop up wizards found themselves on the outside of the consumer experience. The right philosophy here is to provide the insight and knowledge to those who want to wield this very personal experience.

    1.    Reply

      Not here in the U.S. have spammers had the access they do now to long codes. Just recently Twilio launched, GroupTexting, etc. Before these, it was almost hard to find a self service app to use long codes. I guess we will just have to wait and see what the carriers do, this will be the determining factor in the success of long codes.

  9.    Reply

    Can't really figure the long codes out from the carrier's view. They make legitimate companies jump through all sorts of hoops to get short codes approved and maintained, make silly rules like forcing opt out instructions on campaigns that are one-off campaigns and will never become opt-in campaigns, and pay large sums of money to have their campaigns approved.

    Then, the carriers go and let long codes go un-watched and allow such programs as ## go unaudited.

    I wonder what their response is? My guess is they don't have one.

    1.    Reply

      From what I've heard behind closed doors, the carriers don't approve of them for A2P messaging and will soon make an announcement about this. I'm just waiting.

  10.    Reply

    Long codes for application to peer messaging are normal in the UK. They are issued by the networks and, if a consumer phones their network about a message received from a long code the network can point them straight back to the service provider. They are fully traceable and as such are not really a vehicle for spam.

    Hopefully if the US issue long codes they will adopt a similar mechanism.

    1.    Reply

      To the service provider, then you are expecting the service provider to answer the phone and tell them which customer is sending the messages. Seems like a lot of work to find a spammer. I wish it was as easy as just googling the number and showing me who actually sent the messages (not the service provider, but the company responsible). Thanks for the comment.

  11.    Reply

    All of those things may be true but they are easily resolvable.

    a/ I am not sure why the long codes are not being monitored at all. This seems an odd choice for a country whether the process is so vigorous for shortcodes that it should be so slack for long codes.

    b/ Why doesn't the US bring out an equivalent of the SPAM Act (http://bit.ly/q96tzL). The fines in Australia for spamming by SMS or email are so brutal there is not much growth in the area whether on shortcodes or longcodes, both of which have been around for many years.

    1.    Reply

      Well, the talk of those carriers that all started in the RBOC play who fought cellular until they bought into the revolution. Those same carriers that also spawned their nemesis offspring in the cable space who then fought net neutrality against those parties. Oh and then joined that play too. Well these folks are doing blocking and monitoring. so imagine you send a text from your ATT iphone to your Mother's cell. it never gets their and it is truly peer to peer. What if that message was to tell her to take a cab and you couldn't pick her up? Who needs to complain believe it or not according to the carriers is the person who never even received the message…your Mom.Well the carriers are selectively blocking while they allow their own networks and the folks that get the free pass like a twitter or facebook. Yeah isn't it funny that they use short codes for their notifications that have no opt out or any other rules that messaging has on all other players. Hmmm sounds a little fishy. so is it right that ATT would block an end user from receiving a message because it came from the same number and hit their two folks on their network at the same time?? They themselves have group text in the phone as a text function but won't allow the folks that actually care about this technology to deliver messages. The rules are not written by the carriers in telecom for a reason…greed. If Ma Bell had their way their would have been no deregulation and your LD bill would still be massive due to no competition. Do you really thin they would say on their own that the rates were high? The folks that write the rules are the FCC. The FCC is a consumer protection arm not a wolf in the hen house like a carrier defining how their bottom line would be impacted by such a revolution. Now isn't that funny, MMA,CTIA, all short code providers out there, has anyone been talking about the USF fees being applied and the definition of the service being changed from "information service" to a "telecommunications service" and how that will impact the industry. Hmm sounds like the guards have left the door open and their post abandoned. if anyone would like to know why this would impact all involved please ask for that in this post and I would be glad to share.

      1.    Reply

        Couldn't have said it better!!!!! Somewhere the consumer and small business has been forgotten about and messaging has become a bullies sport…….

    2.    Reply

      Correct, they are resolvable, but no one is resolving them and I don't see that happening in the near future. Even if these are resolved, with the lower cost, they will always be a breeding ground for spammers. Thanks for the comment!

  12.    Reply

    Hey Derek, there's also a way to report SMS Spammers that apparently a handful of mobile carriers participate in, including AT&T. I've used it and have noticed my spam text frequency go down significantly.

    You simply copy/paste the spam message and text it to 7726 (SPAM). I wrote a post about it here. http://www.mosio.com/mobileanswers/how-to-report-

    1.    Reply

      Yea, funny you posted about that as earlier this week I talked to the director of GSM about this very program. Good stuff, and good post. Keep the comments coming!