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PhonepayPlus publishes public consultation on Information Connection and Signposting Services

19 July 2012

PhonepayPlus today published a public consultation on a proposed prior permissions regime for Information, Connection and/or Signposting Services (ICSS).

The consultation addresses the issue of Information, Connection and/or Signposting Services.  These are premium rate services that are usually promoted prominently on search engines such as Google or Bing, or sometimes on classified ads websites such as Gumtree, and can be defined as follows:

Premium rate services (other than directory enquiry services),  which provide consumers with information, advice and/or assistance relating to specific organisations, businesses and/or services that such organisations or businesses provide, or which provide connection to such organisations, businesses and/or services.
PhonepayPlus has received a significant number of complaints about these services over the last year, including from the public service and commercial organisations with whose helplines or information ICSS providers associate themselves, some of which have resulted in regulatory activity up to and including adjudications by a PhonepayPlus Tribunal.

PhonepayPlus is concerned about the potential for these services to cause significant consumer harm, in particular by misleading consumers into thinking that the premium rate number they are being offered is an actual number of the organisation they are wishing to dial. This not only calls into question the value that consumers would derive from services if they were clearly and fully informed, given that the same service or information can be easy to access and available for free or at a significantly lower cost, but also risks undermining consumer confidence in the public or commercial organisations with which the ICSS associate themselves.

PhonepayPlus is proposing a prior permissions regime to ensure that such services can only operate if PhonepayPlus is satisfied that they meet the conditions and enhanced obligations specified in the prior permissions regime.

The 10-week consultation on these proposals closes on 27 September 2012 and details of how to respond are included in the consultation document. We are particularly eager to receive feedback to these proposals from providers of ICSS, those businesses and organisations that ICSS associate themselves with and consumer groups.