SMS News

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September 30, 2015

SMS Is Helping Women in Kenya Track Their Pregnancies


In remote areas of east Africa, regular healthcare for expecting mothers is hard to find. Nairobi, Kenya, for example, is desperately impoverished; the infant mortality rate in this region is one of the highest in Africa, with 40 out of 1000 babies not living past infancy. This is a story Malele Ngalu, marketing director for Kenya-based Totohealth, laments on a personal level. 

Ngalu was born in Africa; his mother faced medical disadvantages that resulted in the loss of his twin brother shortly after birth. Today, Ngalu has teamed up with Felix Kimaru, founder of Totohealth, a free SMS text service to help mothers and their infant children during a five-year program.  

Kimaru has raised more than $50,000 to get his startup off the ground and implemented in several rural areas throughout east Africa. Nairobi was one of the first areas Kimaru and Ngalu tackled, sampling the service to 2,000 parents.

According to Ngalu, most parents don’t realize their infant is sick until it’s too late. 

“We asked the parents why they did not bring the children in when they saw they had a problem, and they said they didn’t know there was one,” he said.


Texting for Health

To combat this problem, Kimaru has developed content to be delivered on a weekly basis via text message. The content relates to various developmental stages (up to the age of 5) as well as women’s health. The texts also advise regular checkups and include ready access to a help desk, where trained medical doctors and nurses are available to answer questions, as well as refer parents to nearby clinics or hospitals.

Since its launch early last year, Totohealth has seen significant user growth across the continent. Word of mouth from the original 2,000 users helped double the number of parents actively using the service in nearly 30 different countries. 

Unlike most developed countries, providing this service via app is not yet possible in east Africa—the infrastructure just doesn’t exist yet. 

“Even in low income settings like Kibera, the majority of people have basic phones,” said Ngalu.  

Most basic phones have the ability to receive and send text messages, so for the time being, SMS is the best way to deliver the information as well as track patient progress.  

According to Kimaru, the parents who use the service have a 96 percent likelihood of attending every recommended checkup and appointment. These kinds of results are getting the attention of large groups like the World Health Organization. 

The other advantage to using text is that it’s relatively inexpensive, costing only about 25 cents a month per user. Right now, county governments are footing the bill for the service, hoping that government policy and social awareness will help drive further change to reform maternal programs.  

Kimaru is looking to raise another $300,000 in funding to expand Totohealth’s operations throughout other parts of Africa. 

Crammers Charged with Multi-Million Dollar SMS Scam


Two men are facing charges of running a ‘cramming’ scam that netted them tens of millions of dollars by charging mobile users premium rates for unwanted text messages. 

Six defendants were charged in a New York federal court with an ‘auto-subscribe’ fraud. The scam involved sending text messages containing celebrity gossip, horoscopes and other trivia - and charging up to $10 per month to the unsuspecting recipients bill. The fraud charges were brought by a New York attorney, Preet Bharara, who had previously lodged charges against another six defendants connected with the scam, alleged to have taken place between 2011 and 2013. 

The case is just the tip of the cramming iceberg. So how do they work? And how can you stay vigilant for the signs of a scam? 

Crammers use local exchange carrier (LEC) billing to charge mobile users through their local telephone company accounts. By doing this (rather than charging through the providers of the product or service) the cost to the customer often goes unnoticed. Charges might be made for premium messaging services, special ringtones, apps or long-distance calling. Anything the crammers believe they can slip ‘under the radar’ on a phone bill is fair game. It won’t work on people who - as we all should - check their bills carefully, but, like all scams, the hit rate doesn’t need to be very high to make it worthwhile for the fraudsters. Add automation technology into the mix and crammers are able to target thousands of people in a short space of time, with minimal effort. 

The defendants at the center of the most recent cramming scandal were charging close to $10 a month for text messages sent without the users consent. Most users simply ignored the messages because the amounts were not big enough to ring any alarm bells. The scam is designed that way, which is why such schemes can levy huge amounts of money without being detected.

The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) offers some useful tips to prevent mobile users falling prey to scammers. Recommendation #1 is to cast a careful eye over your monthly statement to check for unusual charges. They may appear as a one-time charge or on a monthly auto-renewal basis. Be wary of generic-sounding fees, company names or services. Also look out for unsolicited text messages. If you receive text messages from a source you don’t recognize, relating to services you didn’t ask for, you should view this as a Big Red Flag. Knowing what’s going on with your phone bill, and contacting your service provider if you see anything suspicious, should keep you safe from being stung by crammers.

September 06, 2015

Mobile Spending to Increase 160% in Three Years


The best place to be if you’re a CMO is at the forefront of a marketing trend. According to a recent survey published by Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, the trend ahead is more spending on mobile. 

The CMO Survey included more than 200 inquiries to top marketing agencies and professionals. Mobile spending currently floats around 6% of total marketing budgets, but is estimated to increase by 160% (to just less than 16%) over the next three years. Duke’s survey, conducted biannually, is one of the oldest dedicated exclusively to marketing. 

For CMOs across the country, the increase is easier said than done. Money can certainly buy mobile ad space, but it doesn’t guarantee returns on investment. Getting ahead of this trend means answering important questions about which mobile marketing tactics are most effective for your business.


Choosing the Best Marketing Methods 

For starters, CMOs should carefully consider the best options available to leverage both the consumer and the brand. This means assessing the target audience, developing content that articulates a benefit, maintaining continuity across all media channels, and figuring out when these targeted customers are most likely accessible and through what media channels. Master these goals and you’re headed for the promised lands; make a misstep and you might damage the brand, or worse, consumer relations. 

The survey found a large gap between the effectiveness of B2B and B2C mobile marketing, with the latter greatly outperforming the former. Both categories were addressed in various fronts including customer acquisition, engagement, retention, messaging, sales, and profits.  

Mobile marketing’s greatest strengths among these categories come as no surprise: engagement and messaging lead the pack. This makes sense as mobile marketing certainly compliments the way people intrinsically use their devices to communicate and engage with content in real time. 

Like all things that promise a big payoff, there are risks involved. One of the issues most noted in the survey is the difficulty involved in quantitatively assessing the success or failure of social media marketing. Currently, social media sites are among the most trafficked via mobile.

Today, much of the marketing done via social media is handled by a third party, so getting accurate data or analytics can be difficult, sometimes impossible depending on the platform.  

CMOs have the difficult task of weighing the risks of ambiguous social media campaigns, with pressures from board members and other higher-ups who have noted behavioral trends shifting increasingly towards mobile.

That being said, it looks like getting ahead of this mobile increase comes down to research and analysis before dollars and cents. 


September 03, 2015

Infographic: Tackling the Flu with Text Messaging

The flu virus costs our economy billions each year. By promoting vaccinations for workers and children, it's possible to reduce the number of sick days and alleviate the annual burden placed on the healthcare system. We've put together an infographic that highlights the scale of the problem and demonstrates the role text messaging can play in increasing vaccination rates...


August 28, 2015

Election Campaigners Are Using SMS to Consolidate Support


It comes as no surprise that presidential candidates are looking at mobile technology to sound the political battle cry. After all, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to connect the pervasive nature of smartphones with the essence of the democratic process—a vote from every registered voter with a cell phone would equal the greatest voter turnout in history! However unlikely that outcome is, the principles driving the candidates to communicate with voters via mobile are redefining the campaign trail, from dusty road to digital highway.  


In particular, campaigners are relying on SMS or text messaging to ignite passionate volunteers to action, as well as for updating supporters on rally meetings, local campaign groups, and other related information. Texting is an immediate form of communication that hits about as close to home as one can get—without actually going door-to-door. 


Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, for example, hasn’t spent a dime on advertising political rallies. Instead, his staff has focused on adding data specialists to the team, refining methods of gathering data on rally attendees, and working to convert those people into campaign volunteers/supporters. 


In July, Sanders hosted a simulcast from a Washington, D.C., apartment to 3,500 event locations across the country. Instead of soliciting for email addresses, Sanders called upon more than 100,000 viewers to text “work” to the organizing number. 


According to the New York Times, nearly 50,000 people became volunteers for the grassroots-style movement that evening.


Sanders isn’t the only candidate connecting with voters via text. Senator Ted Cruz, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Rand Paul have all incorporated aspects of SMS messaging into their campaign initiatives. What’s more, this isn’t the first time texting has been used in the political process. In 2008 President Obama managed to curate a list of more than 1 million people, although according to his staff, the campaign was unable to do much with it at the time. 


The 78-year-old Sanders, however, is taking the technology and running with it.

According to Billy Howard, a Sanders supporter from Reno, Nevada, the effects of the mobile rallying efforts have increased volunteer leadership in the area—surpassing what Howard saw in Reno during Obama’s 2008 presidential bid. 

“That means Sen. Sanders isn’t going to have to spend as much money as Obama did,” Howard said.


August 24, 2015

Little Red Corvette: You Need Security That's Going to Last


During the 20th Century, the greatest selection pressure on the automotive industry was the imperative to produce safer cars. Mechanical functions became computerized wherever possible, bringing the wonders of interactive dashboards, sensors, mapping technology and cameras - even to new cars in the most affordable price range.  

Now, if you own a car manufactured in the last ten years, chances are it has some type of computer network running the show. The consensus is that all these technical advancements have improved safety - perhaps cutting traffic fatalities by as much as a third in the last three years. 

The fly in the ointment? All this fancy-dan technology has exposed new vulnerabilities, even as they’ve swept away old ones.  

Researchers from the University of California have developed a method of hacking cars using insurance black boxes - and SMS. Testing their methods on a 2013 Chevrolet Corvette (because you may as well do science in style), the team worked out how to control the windscreen wipers and - eek! - the brakes using text messages. They say the method can be adapted to access other control systems like transmission, locks and steering. This shouldn’t be possible right?

The researchers are expected to deliver their findings at the USENIX security conference in Washington this November. The report - “Fast and Vulnerable: A Story of Telematic Failures” - states that on-board network devices can be ‘discovered, targeted and compromised by a remote attacker,’ essentially allowing nefarious hackers to turn your vehicle into a remote controlled car.

The black-box system which acted as the portal for the team to hack into the controls is usually used to store data for insurance purposes. Because it needs to log data on braking, speed and location, it must be embedded into the vehicle’s CAN (or internal network) - making it vulnerable to hackers. Once the researchers had gained access they were able to wireless control the car using SMS messages. 

This particular hack has now been patched by the manufacturers, but it’s indicative of just how easy it is to expose and exploit systems designed to make automotive travel safer. 

Another car hack was recently performed on the Jeep Cherokee. Demonstrations of how easily the vehicle’s uConnect software could be compromised using an IP address caused widespread concern. Other car manufacturers, including General Motors, have also been shown to have vulnerabilities to hackers. 

The irony is that insurance companies are incentivizing the installation of data loggers, and have been for years. And the kinds of technology used in the hacks aren’t regulated because, like SMS messaging, they are so widely available. It’s safe to assume that the hacks performed so far by researchers represent the tip of the iceberg. With millions of cars using data logging technology, we could see more cases of dangerous security breaches emerging in due course.

How SMS Technology is Helping Adult Care Providers


The over-65s will represent 19% of the population by 2030 (compared with 12.4% in 2000). As birth rates fall and life expectancy increases, adult care provision is becoming a major issue in the United States and other developed economies with ageing populations but fewer multi-generational households. The burden of age-relate medical health is growing; simultaneously, the familial structures that once existed to support basic care of elderly relatives is vanishing.

In short, taking care of the over-65s has become a public, not a private, responsibility. Tech developers are well aware of this paradigm shift. New adult care technologies are emerging to help healthcare providers face the challenges presented by dementia, incontinence, immobility and other age-related problems. 

The latest example brings together a variety of tools to help minimize the effects of soiled adult diapers and improve the standard of care for bedridden patients. Using sensors to detect wetness, the system alerts medical staff via SMS messaging.

The ‘intelligent continence management system’ was developed by researchers at the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) in Singapore. It comprises a thin disposable sensor strip, a compact wireless transmitter and a receiver. Designed to prevent rashes and infections - not to mention discomfort - associated with lying in soiled diapers, the system can be integrated into existing adult diapers. Once wetness reach a pre-determined level, a text message is sent to caregivers, notifying them that action must be taken. 

The prototype was tested on 20 elderly retirement home residents in Singapore back in 2013. It was validated by the Agency for Integrated Care and geriatrician Dr. Philip Yap from Khoo Teck Puat Hospital. Testing demonstrated the system’s reliability, and patients fitted with the system spend 90% less time in wet diapers than those without. 

The company IBN created to market the technology, Wet Alert, won the 2014 Bronze Prize at the Long-Term Care Quality Festival Poster Competition, an event organized by the Ministry of Health and the Agency for Integrated Care.


August 17, 2015

Apple Dodges 'Lost Messages' Lawsuit


Earlier this month, Apple escaped what could have become a major headache: a lawsuit that threatened to open the floodgates to many more. Had it moved forward, Apple stood to lose millions of dollars in damages.

The class action related to the widely-publicized iMessage glitch that saw millions of messages go undelivered. The gremlin affected a specific subset of mobile users who had switched from iOS devices to Androids within their existing contracts. 

According to the plaintiffs, Apple willfully kept SMS messages sent from iMessage to non-Apple devices, failing to notify either the sender or receiver that they had not been delivered. Furthermore, the company was accused of taking insufficient action to remedy the problem, leaving Android users to find solutions of their own. 

What nobody disputes is that Apple knew about the bug. When it first emerged last year, they unceremoniously introduced a microsite where users could deregister their iMessage accounts. Although this went some way towards alleviating the problem, the solution was poorly advertised, leaving many Android ‘defectors’ in the dark. Apple also faced criticism for offering a solution that required users to fix the problem themselves. 

Savvy Android users with their ears to the digital-ground did find their own solutions, such as requesting their iPhone contacts to sever the iMessage connection between phone numbers.  

Despite the widespread inconvenience caused by Apple’s inaction, US District Judge Lucy Koh ruled that the class action lawsuit couldn’t move forward. Judge Koh said that the plaintiffs could not prove they were inconvenienced by any ‘contractual breach or interference’ owing to the iMessage glitch. She went on to say, however, that individual claims could still be filed against Apple, offering some hope to other parties affected by the issue. 

Judge Koh stated:

“[The] Plaintiff does not have to allege an absolute right to receive every text message in order to allege that Apple’s intentional acts have caused an ‘actual breach or disruption’ of the contractual relationship.”

Though the ruling offers a legal opportunity for further lawsuits, the reality of mounting a case against one of the biggest corporations in the world is likely to prove prohibitively expensive. Whether they acted, or failed to act, out of malice - as some cynics have suggested - or whether it was an honest oversight with an inadequate response, it looks like Apple has had a lucky escape from a potentially disastrous slew of lawsuits.

August 13, 2015

SMS Concierge GoButler Wins $8m in Funding


Wouldn’t it be great to have a personal assistant? Apple’s digital concierge called Siri was supposed to set your appointments, make it easy to access information, and recommend places to eat nearby. But that’s not exactly how most of use Siri. Instead, we ask her for bedtime stories and other ridiculous queries—our dreams of virtual assistance took a few giant leaps back. 

GoButler is looking to make up some lost ground. Using basic SMS messaging, GoButler connects users with “heroes,” or trained employees of GoButler that assist with fulfilling just about any request. The service is free and claims to be able to handle even the tallest order, so long as it’s legal.

If this sounds familiar, that’s because this isn’t a novel idea. Similar products already exist like Magic, an app used primarily on the West Coast with the same general SMS-based premise. So what makes GoButler different?


How GoBulter Stands Out from the Pack

To start, the originally Berlin-based startup has just locked down $8 million in series A funding; this corresponds with the app’s recent release from beta and introduction to several new markets including the US, Canada, UK, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. 

GoButler also just moved its headquarters to New York City, where the company plans to develop technology to improve the automation aspects of the service. Moreover, the move was not coincidental. The GoButler team is prospectively looking to take over the East Coast, a current gap in the virtual assistant market, with the hopes of beating out its competitors as it improves the software and grows the user base.  

The startup’s founder and CEO Navid Hadzaad acknowledged that virtual assistants are already available in the app store but rejects any notions that GoButler is a specific clone; Magic and GoButler were launched just 3 weeks apart from each other.  

All three founders of GoButler—Navid Hadzaad, Jens Urbaniak and Maximilian Deilmann—were previously employed by the successful German tech company Rocket Internet; however, upon completing the app, each quickly left his job. 

Ironically, Rocket Internet’s Global Founders Capital was one of the key contributors in the series A funding that took place just a few weeks ago.  

Since launching earlier this year, GoButler reports 100,000 users with nearly 1 million requests made so far. There are currently more than 120 operators working around the clock, assisting with a variety of requests from pizza delivery to purchasing plane tickets. 

Navid maintains the company will remain free to users as it grows in the US and abroad, with some discussion of affiliate programs circulating in the near future.

The emphasis on SMS messaging in several recently developed apps is not surprising. Multiple reports indicate that texting is the number one feature used on all smartphone devices across nearly every age demographic. Texting, for many people, is more comfortable and convenient than using multiple apps. If this remains true and apps like GoButler and Magic proliferate, texting may finally become the personal assistants we wanted but never thought we would have.  

July 31, 2015

T-Mobile to Add Advanced Messaging to its SMS Services


According to a recent study, texting is the most used feature on a smartphone across nearly every age demographic. Third-party apps jumped on the wagon early to improve built-in SMS and MMS features and developed apps like Facebook Messenger and Apple's iMessage. Many of these apps make it easier to send large data files, communicate quicker, and confirm messages have been received. However, T-Mobile has just released a new feature for its users that may change the message game altogether, by bringing advanced messaging directly to the device.  

SMS and MMS messaging are still incredibly relevant to smartphone users despite the millions of apps now available to them. Rather than develop its own third-party app, T-Mobile has introduced software called Advanced Messaging, which is built on Rich Communication Services (RCS) and addresses many of the limitations various apps have capitalized on. The service is very democratic—while it’s currently only available on the Samsung Galaxy Grand Prime, the software was designed to work on all carriers and across every operating system. Software updates will be necessary for existing devices, but T-Mobile has said that several phones will be available later this year with Advanced Messaging already enabled. 


Understanding Advanced Messaging 

Advanced Messaging incorporates several features including real-time messaging, read notifications, currently typing icons, and the ability to send up to 10MB of data via text. With improved regular SMS and MMS messaging on the device itself, users won’t have to reply on compatibility or downloading multiple apps and interfaces. There’s no extra charge for the service but it does require Wi-Fi or LTE to operate the improved features—otherwise the software defaults to regular messaging.

While it is unclear whether or not all smartphones will adopt the software in the future, it’s an interesting approach to take on behalf of the user. On the one hand, the promise of a unified messaging system that operates as well as, if not better than, popular third party apps is a gift to users who would no longer have to think about availability or compatibility. On the other hand, it’s a bold move from T-Mobile that undercuts Apple’s highly integrated app-based platform that emphasizes selection and choice through a variety of different apps.

T-Mobile is not the first carrier to launce RCS, but it is the first carrier to offer it in the US. In 2012, MetroPCS, a flat-rate carrier, released RCS just prior to a merger with T-Mobile. At the time, RCS delivered features like simultaneous voice and multimedia messaging as well as social presence. The merger delivered the scale and financial resources to expand geographic coverage, as well as offer an improved selection of devices and services, so T-Mobile could compete with the nation’s larger carriers. 

Launching Advanced Messaging was a bold choice in the wake of a developing app-based mobile culture. Time will tell if the user-friendly software will proliferate or remain exclusive to T-Mobile users.