MyBroadband.co.za censors consumer activism about Afrihost SMS- & email-spam

Update 8th June 2017: MyBroadBand has banned me because I reported them to ISPA and issued a PAIA request.

It all started off with receiving unsolicited SMS from Afrihost towards the end of May 2017 when Afrihost wanted to do a Net Promoter Score campaign to randomly ask customers about their service. Due to human error, the campaign file contained random names with random numbers which resulted in me (and many other customers) getting several SMS with a mixup in first names:

As most consumers, I dislike unsolicited communication and make a serious effort to report abusers to ISPA and WASPA. I reported the above case to WASPA as well as Afrihost. Afrihost’s social media team explained that the incorrect name in the text-messages was due to a technical issue. At that point in time, I was happy with the response… Until I received several SPAM emails later:

I then learned that a large number of people also received the same amount of spam and reported they reported it on MyBroadband.co.za. When I received my first email on the 1st June, I made sure that I opted out of promotions and marketing email – and they were:

But those Afrihost spam emails kept on coming. The last Afrihost spam email arriving on 6th June 2017 at 13:47 and the subsequent error in attempting to unsubscribe was the final straw:

Leading up to the various SPAM emails, I received a number of requests for suggestions on how to deal with it and I then posted a detailed explanation on Mybroadband on what actions a consumer affected by unsolicited messages / SPAM can take. This was posted on 6th June at 13:36 and the post was removed hours later:

Although MyBroadband calls themselves an open community platform, the moderators and owners of the forum are very protective over their customers and do not like criticism which could affect advertising revenue or upset paying customers (such as the Afrihost representatives). Hence the “editorial freedom” is slightly skewed and one can not question a paying sponsor as this will either result in deletions of posts or a permanent ban.

Since the moderators and owners of MyBroadband do not inform a poster of a deletion, it is almost impossible to follow-up and in my case I often take screenshots (such as the above) to show that actions by the mods or sponsors are not in the interest of the public.

I have always been transparent and believe in being objective and fair and in this case I have asked in the same thread why my posts had been deleted and was told the following:

Do you want to guess what happened to my post from 7th June at 12:49pm? Well, it is gone and to prove it, I have done another post to show this:

While I find this level of censorship despicable, there is nothing much one can do. Publishers will always protect their paying customers and criticism (even if it is helpful for consumers) are just not acceptable and upset sponsors.

Although I have received an apology from Gian Visser (Afrihost CEO) about the recent SMS- and e-mail spam, I have filled an ISPA complaint (COC.#1182) for the unsolicited emails as well as a WASPA complaint about the unsolicited SMS messages.

MyBroadband.co.za allows company representatives to be moderators

Although this has been widely denied and is never acknowledged, looking at MyBroadband’s user-groups shows very well that a number of Afrihost employees are moderators on the Afrihost Support Forum:

Considering that company representatives pay MyBroadband to provide customer support, the case of Afrihost having their own support forum and then staff being moderators is just a questionable and unhealthy relationship between MyBroadband and Afrihost. This is even more concerning when both Afrihost employees and MyBroadband moderators and staff heavily censor unwelcome content which is only deemed “unwelcome” because it empowers consumers to deal with service issues.

 

How to deal with unsolicited messages

NOTE: I have subsequently published a more comprehensive article titled “How to report and block spam and unsolicited messages in South Africa” which replaces what I originally posted on MyBroadband.co.za below.

The South African Electronic Communications Act (section 45) is quite specific about unsolicited messages – so much so, that it is deemed a criminal act. Once POPI (Protection Of Personal Information act) comes into place, offenders will face severe fines but for now the following can be done – the below information was censored/deleted from Mybroadband.co.za as Afrihost and the moderators felt that the content is “inappropriate”:

I have received a number of requests for advise regarding the recent unsolicited messages (both SMS and e­mail) from Afrihost and instead of replying individually, this is what you should do (this also applies to any other service provider):

SMS Spam

  • If you don’t know the sender, then go to http://smscode.co.za/ and identify the sender (it helps with the next step)
  • Lodge a complaint with WASPA – https://waspa.org.za/lodge­a­complaint/ (you can check your status here: http://old.waspa.org.za/unsub/status.php)
  • Ensure that in the WASPA complaint you state “Do not opt­out / disable / blacklist my number. My complaint needs to be taken up with the SMS provider’s customer”
  • WASPA will normally take about 5­7 working days to respond. Sometimes they are faster. Give it time. They normally will contact the SMS provider and they in turn will contact you.
  • Sometimes it happens that the SMS provider or their customer is full of non­sense, follow ECTA below
  • Also highlight that if the message is a marketing message, there needs to be an opt­out. Some senders will argue that it is not marketing (if so, also follow ECTA)

ECTA

  • Everyone knows what it is and that unsolicited commercial messages are illegal and criminal with fines and up to 12 months imprisonment
  • Don’t mention POPI – you will look like a fool, as it is not law yet, but you can hint that penalties under POPI are more severe Boilerplate email:

PAIA

In almost all cases they will be able to remove you from their own database. They will hardly ever be able to provide you with (b) or (c). In this case you can file a PAIA request (use “Form C ­ Private Body Request Access Form”) and as reason state:

  • Full records are required to exercise the protection of my right to privacy and non­solicitation
  • To verify that my information is not distributed / sold for commercial purposes
  • My right to privacy and human dignity has been violated by receiving messages not destined for me

Remember that a PAIA response can take up to 60 days. They can decline a request and you can then only appeal to the ConCourt. If they comply they can charge you a fee for providing records ­ those fees MUST be in their PAIA manual which must be easily accessible.

ISPA

They are great and super efficient. If you are dealing with an ISP, then lodge a complaint: https://ispa.org.za/code­of­conduct/complaints­form/

I know the above sounds like a lot of work, but no company should be allowed to infringe your privacy without your consent. Unfortunately I have never been able to go as far as appealing to the Concourt or filled criminal charges.

I have however taken Afrihost to task via ISPA (actually twice), had issues resolved with two major banks via PASA and am currently busy with several FSB/FAIS cases as well. It is effort but holds those companies accountable. Most of you will not make the effort (the same way everyone was a keyboard warrior in 2014/2015 when Afrihost and MWeb violated ISPA and CPA), but I do hope the above is helpful to the few who asked for assistance.

MyBroadband.co.za is an ISPA member

MyBroadband.co.za is a paying ISPA member and as such needs to comply with ISPA’s code of conduct. The ISPA membership is listed on ISPA’s website:

and MyBroadband.co.za also lists their ISPA membership on their website:

The ISPA code of conduct makes it very clear how their members need to interact with customers.

 

What about MyBroadband.co.za censorship

From the above description and screenshots you will see that my contribution was intended to be helpful and contextual to the current issue at hand. I personally think that censorship and deletion of context is outright wrong. At worst a topic can be closed for comments or a post should be moved. At no point in time should any community platform however result in censorship which undermines freedom of speech and removes consumer advice. Especially when the motive for censorship is of pure commercial reasons.

MyBroadband.co.za seem to also have extended moderator permissions to certain paid suppliers / company representatives according to some in the know:

As you can imagine, when a website such as Mybroadband.co.za refers to itself as “MyBroadband is South Africa’s biggest and best IT news website, covering the latest international and local IT and tech news” and you then have paid ISP company representatives being able to moderate customer feedback in a supposedly open and public discussion forum, that a certain level of conflict of interest arises as unwelcome customer feedback will be deleted by company representatives or even company staff.

To understand how MyBroadband censorship works, here is an example: The operators of the forum have my access disabled to the forum topic in which my posts had been deleted. If I visit the topic link, I get the following:

If I visit the same link via an incognito window, I can see the thread (obviously posts are still deleted):

Since my permissions to access the thread have been removed, I can only browse it via a private-browsing window. In the same thread you will notice other Afrihost customers raising similar points about receiving SPAM despite having unsubscribed. The Afrihost representative “AfriFella” responded that a “glitch” resulted in multiple emails being sent. As others have confirmed, it seems that Afrihost is just ignoring CAN-SPAM and customer’s subscription preferences:

This level of censorship and restriction of access is more than common when moderators, staff, advertisers or paid company representatives deem certain content “unwelcome”. It is not in the spirit of a public discussion forum to censor critical and objective posts just because a paid company dislikes the sentiment of a post. At no point in time did Mybroadband, moderators or even Afrihost representatives contact me about a forum policy violation or bothered to inform me about the deletion of the posts.

On 7th June at 5:00pm Rudolf Muller (the owner of Mybroadband) started to weigh in as “rpm” in a separate thread, where he tries to “mansplain” why my posts had been deleted:

Since Mybroadband.co.za is also an ISPA member, they have to follow the ISPA code-of-conduct and I have filed an ISPA complaint with reference COC.#1184 against Mybroadband.

Update 7th June 17:26: I have posted my last feedback on the separate MyBroadband thread as all my previous posts had been deleted and I have posted a screenshot below. I will not engage with Afrihost or Mybroadband on their platforms as I can not frequently go back and check if my comments have not been altered or deleted. I will provide an update on the respective ISPA outcomes when I receive them.

Update 9th June 12:55: MyBroadband responded to ISPA in a 3-page document which has now led to ISPA adjudicating the matter via an independent ICT lawyer.

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