THE BLOG
05/09/2013 08:42 BST | Updated 04/11/2013 05:12 GMT

MPs and the Text Pests: The Commons and the Campaign to Block the Spammers

It is sometimes bewildering to contemplate the technological advances made in just the last couple of decades and the impact which they have had on our work and our sense of well-being.

Established businesses have been transformed for the better (and worse) and entirely new industries created by automation and software.

Progress has, one could argue, proven that those of our ancestors who argued that the world was flat were right, albeit not in the way which they had imagined.

In the space of 50 years, Marshall McLuhan's "global village" has been reduced in scale even further, putting a world of retail, information and instant digital relationships into devices small enough to fit in the palms of our hands.

We are, in short, more connected than we have ever been in our planet's history.

However, some believe that we are too connected and, therefore, easier prey for those intending to use tablets, laptops, smartphones and landlines for illicit gains.

A survey conducted on behalf of the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) concluded that UK mobile users get 8.7 million nuisance text messages every single day.

Meanwhile, the consumers' association, Which?, estimates that almost 10 per cent of people receive more than 50 cold calls from marketing companies a month.

There have been some successes against the text pests and nuisance callers. Two directors of one spamming company were fined £440,000 last November. In May, there was a series of arrests made to thwart a surge in so-called pension liberation schemes.

The fact that such triumphs are relatively isolated is not for the lack of effort on the part of the Information Commissioner's Office - the UK's guardian of data protection. As research has shown, there is just so much spam and cold-calling that it's difficult to know how to tackle it all.

It would appear, though, that momentum is building for a more comprehensive attack on illicit marketeers. The legitimate marketing industry is being urged to do more to tackle the problem, while MPs are set to take a significant step forwards in the coming months to formalising their approach to the issue.

The Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee has just begun the process of taking evidence regarding the problem and possible solutions to it.

Its sessions are going to be followed by similar meetings of an All-Party Group established by the LibDem MP Mike Crockart, a keen advocate of tough measures to weed out the spam.

It is perhaps appropriate that I declare an interest at this point. Pinesoft has developed a system called the Mobile Preference Service which, unlike other initiatives, doesn't just provide an idea of the volume of spam texts inundating consumers but can actually prevent them being received in the first place.

Given that background, we are among those who have been invited to meet Under-Secretary of State, Ed Vaizey, in early October in order to outline the practical measures at hand.

Mr Vaizey is not detached from the problem. He has previously admitted the issue of unsolicited calls and texts accounts for the biggest single topic of complain in his constituency postbag.

To all that activity can be added the Second Reading in November of a Private Member's Bill put forward by Mr Crockart and designed to beef up the powers of the authorities to combat abuses.

This autumn, then, represents a significant opportunity to protect consumers and, by doing so, protect also the reputations of those marketeers who don't break the rules.

To fully capitalise on it, there needs to be the will to put universal solutions in place.

Only then can we be sure that our connectivity really does become a convenience rather than a constant source of aggravation.