Customers of Dialog Axiata are rather used to receiving spam SMS. Dialog (and other fine upstanding Sri Lankan telecommunication companies) regularly flood inboxes with everything from unsolicited messages from the President to the offer of the day – Lord of the Reload, Dialog TV offers, Accident cover, you name it – and all 102,000,000,000 gods* help you if you make the mistake of subscribing to something like 077 Live. Reams have been written on this spamflood; petitions have been made in its wake.
However, it seems that Dialog has sunk to a new low. Kalinga Athulathmudalali, CTO at Takas.lk and founder of Techකතා, brought this to our attention after posting a set of tweets with a screenshot. Said screenshot, displayed below, shows a string of messages from Dialog, inviting the user to dial *325# for Facebook access. The last message is where ugly marketing rears its head.
Leave aside the spamflood (November 1st, November 4th and November 4th again, pushing USSD alerts to a customer who uses the Facebook app: well played, marketing team, well played): Sri Lankans have gotten used to these seemingly desperate calls-to-action, and no network is entirely free of such spam. Instead, consider the last message.
There are only three ways a mere mortal (read: someone not from Facebook itself) can know how many notifications you have: a) you’ve told them or b) you’ve given access to your Facebook account or c) they’ve hacked you. Kalinga’s not the only one to have received this message.
The gut reaction to the message, as can be seen, is to accuse Dialog of the obvious: hacking.
If this were true, Dialog Axiata, under the laws of the country and the world, would be guilty of cybercrime. They would also possibly have a very large lawsuit headed their way from Facebook, and somehow we at Readme don’t think The Future is heading there Today.
Rather, this is yet another ungainly marketing stunt: fooling people into believing that Facebook has notifications for them. This falls squarely under what the world defines as False Advertising, which is illegal in most countries. However, this being Sri Lanka, there appears to be no local law that brings this under its jurisdiction. One would suppose that Facebook or the users themselves are free to press charges, although it’s unlikely that Facebook will bother.
Instead, let us ask more pressing questions. Consider the screenshot below. Dialog requires that subscribers log in to their Facebook through *325#, exposing their login credentials. This service appears to be entirely outside the “Facebook mobile” SMS service that Facebook operates. Why is Dialog collecting Facebook accounts?
Why is there no mention of this in Dialog.lk or any of the official press? Where has the marketing team behind this been schooled, and why were they not taught fundamental ethics or crime regulations? And when will Sri Lanka get a law that prevents companies from emplyong such blatant falsehood as marketing tactics?
Food for thought.
*information of dieties courtesy of http://atheism.wikia.com/