Wednesday, April 26, 2017

MTN Monitoring and Monetizing My Call Logs

This is part of a letter I have written to MTN (my mobile operator), following the events that happened after I made a call to my domestic worker's mobile phone. I recived a popup-style "alert SMS" message, followed by a standard spam SMS from the MTN short code 46163:
This morning I called my domestic worker from my MTN phone. Her phone is very basic. I can do SMS messages and not much more. She is illiterate, so she cannot read SMS messages.
When I had finished the call I got an annoying little popup message on my phone, followed by an SMS from 46163 claiming that my domestic’s phone number “just sent me a Caller Notify message.” [See screen shot above]
My first concern is that clearly my domestic does not have the capability to type out the message, let alone send it as an alert style SMS instead of a standard SMS message.
Secondly, she has no way of sending messages on behalf of 46163
Thirdly, 46163 is not a short code registered with WASPA.
But my biggest question is: who gave the operators of 46163 the network capability to monitor calls to and from my phone, and to and from her phone? I should also point out that I am the account holder of both phones and at no point do I recall permitting subscription services to be deducted from her phone, or have I given MTN permission to give calling metadata to anyone, and that it should only be used for the purposes of police investigations or billing.
So the privacy and compliance issues surrounding this “service” are of grave concern to me as a subscriber. Please would you explain what is going on?
Best wishes
Donn Edwards
I await their reply with interest, and will publish it as soon as it becomes available. I have called their call centre and discovered that the "service" deducts R2 per month R1 per day from the phone's account. Not much until you consider that she only gets R50 airtime a month. Then it's a big deal.
Update Friday 28 April: According to this tweet the call centre was lying. The cost for this "service" is R1 per day, or R5 per week. That's plain daylight robbery. My email has been passed from pillar to post at MTN, but still no one has actually replied. I guess I'll have to wait until Tuesday.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

JoziBear 24/7: Customer Service Gone Wrong*

Earlier this week I became aware of a new startup in the taxi business, trying to compete with the likes of Uber and Zebra Cabs in Johannesburg. One of my gripes with Uber is they have no phone lines, so you have to reply on Twitter or email to talk to them.
Being cautious, I first asked if they had a phone number I could use. They replied and gave me the number 011-082-9825 which I duly added to my phone contacts, hoping I would never need to use it. How wrong I was.
I resolved to try using their service on my way home from gym on Tuesday. As it turned out I left gym early, and at 4.17pm I requested a ride from Victory Park Shopping Centre to my home.
Within seconds I got an SMS reply to say they would be finding a nearby driver. After that, nothing.
Bear in mind I'm sitting on the pavement outside the shopping centre, I've had a long day and I just want to go home. I check on the app and get this:
"Sorry, no trips to display". And a programmer's error message about a missing data id, or something. It was gone before I could get a screen shot. So at 4.23pm (after 5 minutes) I sent this tweet: No reply, even though they tweeted at 4.15pm and again at 4.30pm. Turns out that was a Twitter bot giving the illusion of human activity. Clearly no service via Twitter. So I tried the number on the SMS at 4.27pm (i.e after 10 minutes). No answer from 086-001-5666, just an automated message that says "The user you are trying to reach is unavailable". I have yet to get any kind of answer from that number. Presumably faulty.
So I try the landline number, 011-082-9825 hoping at least someone would answer. After all, this is a 24 hour a day operation. I get voicemail. I didn't leave a message. I was already waiting for them to "get back to me" with no results.
Instead, since I was trying out alternatives to Uber, I decided to give Zebra Cabs another go. The first time I installed their app I didn't get the SMS code they promised, and a call to their call centre wasn't particularly enlightening either. But this time I installed the app and it worked. By 4.33 I had requested a ride and by 4.57 I was home. My first trip with Zebra Cabs was a complete success.
At 9.09am this morning I gave twitter another try and decided to try calling again. The 086-001-5666 number still gave me "The user you are trying to reach is unavailable", but I did manage to speak to someone (I think it was Kampa) who said he had no idea what was going on because he had just got into the office. I pointed out that they advertise a 24/7 service and he promised to investigate.
At lunchtime I noticed another tweet from @JoziBear247 and wondered why they still hadn't replied. I decided to reply to every tweet they sent out until someone replied. It took several hours but by 3pm (23 hours after my first "help!" tweet) they finally replied, saying their "internet was down". SAY AGAIN!?. What was the social media person doing all day on his/her phone? Playing solitaire? Oh, wait. This is an internet startup. Of course they don't have smart phones. What was I thinking?
At 2.57 they send an email that reads:
From: Jozibear Sales&Marketing <>
Subject: Apology
Good day Donn.
I wish to convey my sincere apology on behalf of JoziBear for missing your trip yesterday.
I wish to advise that we are still adding drivers to our system to meet the demand. We could not get you a ride as all our drivers in your area were busy being the peak hour.
Furthermore, we could not reply to your messages on Twitter as our Internet was down since morning due to maintenance that just ended a while ago.
I wish to again apologise for the inconvenience cause you. We hope to serve you better next time should you give us a second chance.
Kind Regards,
So I get a "sincere apology" that turned out to be totally insincere when he blocked my Twitter account, and a load of lame excuses and justifications. No sense of concern or urgency. And this is the PR guy! The person who is supposed to put the customer first. Completely oblivious to how arrogant his "apology" sounds. He wasn't able to call me during the internet outage? Or send an SMS? He's obviously a very busy man. Can't answer his cell phone at 3.27 or his land line. Instead I get passed on to Mandla Zuma in "Operations" who was just as clueless as to why no one let me know they couldn't find a ride for me.
But wait, there's more! Read section 6 of their Privacy page:
6. Direct marketing
We only use your e-mail address and phone number for sharing our product related marketing messages if you have given consent via Jozibear 24/7 app during installation and registration. If you no longer wish to receive direct marketing messages, please email us at
Nowhere in the installation or registration process was there any mention of providing consent for direct marketing. None. Nothing. Nor is there any mention of it on the app page in the Google Play store. There are some angry reviews about this, and I have written to but not had a reply as yet. I doubt I'll get one either. I have CC'd Craig Geswindt, their CEO, so we'll see what happens.
All I want them to do is fix their systems so that other people don't get left stranded like I was. I'm certainly not going to put their app on my wife's phone until they do.
*Update Thursday 10am: The CEO called me personally. He understands the issues and is working to fix them. I don't envy these challenges, but if they are working on them I will cut them some slack. I'll try again in a month or so and see how things have improved.