Notice to Industry: Virtual chat and date services advertising that consumers can meet others through the service
30 January 2009
PhonepayPlus today issued a Notice to Industry, clarifying that Virtual Chat and Date Services (regardless of delivery platform or number range) should not imply that users are exchanging messages with other members of the public, or that users will be able to meet others by using the service, unless that is in fact the case.
PhonepayPlus' recent review of mobile phone-paid services highlighted an issue with promotional material for various text-based Virtual Chat Services which implied that users may be able to meet other members of the public as a consequence of calling or texting the service.
This promotional material either implies or explicitly states that the people it features have joined the advertised dating service in order to meet other members of the public, and so may raise expectations that any meeting would result in sexual liaison.
PhonepayPlus has evidence that a significant number of these claims are misleading. Furthermore, in some cases operators working for Virtual Chat Services have been advertised as genuine "contacts," something we have concluded misleads consumers into believing they are communicating with another member of the public.
The Mobile Review's conclusion can be found on pages 29-31 of the Final Policy Statement.
The Policy Statement's main recommendation in respect of Text-based Virtual Chat and Date Services was as follows:
- Services should not imply that users are exchanging messages with other users, or that users will be able to meet others by using the service, unless that is in fact the case.
This Notice extends the above advice to all premium rate Virtual Chat and Date services, regardless of delivery platform or number range. This is due to monitoring and investigations which indicate that chat and date services which are delivered on fixed line platforms are also in some instances being advertised in the same, potentially misleading, way.
We hope that regulatory enforcement action will not be necessary and ask that all providers who are currently promoting or operating in the ways described in this Notice cease to do so and remove any current promotions, with immediate effect. Failure to do so is likely to result in breaches of the PhonepayPlus Code of Practice being raised.