Consumers Warned Over Hidden Emoticon Data Charges

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Consumers warned of potential hidden data charges if they use emoticons in their text messages

Mobile phone users should think twice before adding a smiley face or other emoticons to their text messages.

That is the message from consumer website MoneySavingExpert.com, founded by money saving expert Martin Lewis.

Hidden Charges

The website was responding after it received a large number of complaints about the issue. The problem affects older handsets, including Samsung and Apple devices.

Phones affected include the Samsung Galaxy S1, S2, S3, S4, plus the Galaxy Note 1, 2, 3 and Galaxy Ace.

Apparently, the issue is to do with the way these older phones interprets the emoticons (or emojis), when it converts the emoticons into a MMS (multi-media service) message, which can cost up to 40 pence each depending on network.

And even in some cases when the user creates their own icons using full stops, commas and brackets, the icon has been converted into an emoticon that occurs the same data charge.

shock mobile surprise ©shutterstock auremar“One MoneySaver contacted us to say she received a bill for £209 on a £30 per month all-inclusive Samsung Galaxy S4 contract as a result of using emojis,” wrote the website.

“I phoned up EE to be informed that as my son has been including emojis in his messages, they are charged as picture messages, and not included in his contract,” it quoted Tracy as writing. “EE has now agreed to halve the bill, which I suppose I will have to accept, but I would just like to warn any other computer/smartphone-illiterate parents of the pitfalls!”

“I have been charged by O2 for sending smileys on the end of text messages,” Maxine Salt, who has a Samsung S4, wrote to the website “I was told they are classed as picture messages on Samsung phones. I don’t know anyone else who has to pay for these! I had to pay nearly £20 on top of my bill. I didn’t download anything – the emojis were on my keypad when I got the phone which is why I assumed it was OK to use and not an added charge.”

“We are aware that in some circumstances SMS may be transferred into MMS (for example, where one text is sent to multiple recipients or where an emoticon or emoji is used),” an Ofcom spokesman reportedly said. “Based on our previous engagement with mobile providers about long texts/texts sent to multiple recipients and the subsequent conversion to MMS, our understanding is that the conversion is a handset issue. How that message is subsequently charged would be a mobile provider issue.”

“However there are rules on transparency – we would expect mobile providers to make clear to consumers how much MMS cost and when such charges would apply,” the regulator warned.

SMS Decline

But the advice from MoneySavingExpert.com is for users to regularly check their mobile phone bills and use free IM apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook Chat, and Skype etc.

Indeed, some experts point to the decline of SMS messages nowadays, thanks to the arrival of free IM alternatives.

In January 2014, figures from Deloitte for example revealed that the number of text messages sent by UK mobile users had fallen for the first time ever. It found that the number of traditional texts sent in 2013 was estimated to be at 145bn, a decline of around 7bn messages compared to 2012.

In April 2013, Informa revealed that the number of messages sent via free messaging services such as WhatsApp and iMessage had exceeded those sent via SMS for the first time.

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