South Africa - SMS Regulations

South Africa has a robust and strict regulatory environment for SMS messaging. Several laws provide a framework for these regulations which define commercial electronic communications and enforce consumer protection and personal data protection. The Electronic Communications and Transactions Act, 2002 (ECTA) along with the Consumer Protection Act, 2008 (CPA) and the Protection of Personal Information Act, 2013 (POPIA, previously known as POPI) all regulate electronic marketing, including SMS messaging, defining how consent to receive direct marketing is obtained and how a consumer can opt-out from receiving marketing messages. POPIA requires an opt-in regime to receive SMS marketing. In addition, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) has published regulations on premium rated services (PRS) in 2017, covering rules for SMS messages where the charge is higher than standard rate.

During the early 2000s, the early years of the mobile messaging industry in the country, the mobile network providers saw the need to formalise industry best practice and comply with relevant legislation. In 2004 this resulted in the formation of the Wireless Application Service Providers’ Association (WASPA) as a self-regulating industry body. Members of the association are wireless service providers operating in South Africa. WASPA’s Code of Conduct provides a binding set of rules that regulates SMS messaging in the country. In particular, attention is given to the advertising and running of mobile services, especially mobile marketing and mobile content subscription services. WASPA handles consumer complaints lodged against service providers. Complaints can be lodged with WASPA online here.

Key requirements for SMS marketing:

Consent

An opt-in regime is required in South Africa, that is; to receive direct marketing communications via SMS consumers must give prior, explicit consent to receive these messages or they are to be an existing customer of the sender, in which case they provided implicit consent to receive marketing messages. An organisation must retain proof of how and when a recipient gave consent to receive a marketing message as a consumer can request how their details were obtained. Alternatively, the organisation must have proof that the recipient has provided their contact details in the context of the sale of a product or service which is same as that being marketed. These consent rules also apply to non-profits engaged in SMS fundraising campaigns.

Identify sender

No Sender IDs are available in South Africa due to mobile network operator policies. Therefore, it is important for senders to identify their company, brand or non-profit at the beginning of the body of the message. A contact telephone number or website address must also be included in the body of the message. It is acceptable to use a URL shortener when sending links via SMS.

Unsubscribe function

A STOP reply unsubscribe facility is available for all SMS messaging in South Africa irrespective of whether the messages are marketing or transactional in nature. For marketing communications, consumers have the right not to receive marketing communications via SMS. To protect this right, a recipient of a marketing message must be able to opt-out from receiving further messages. This opt-out mechanism must include the ability to reply STOP via SMS, and this STOP request cannot be charge at an additional rate above the standard cost of processing an SMS message. There is an emerging industry best practice to enable a STOP request for marketing messages to be charged to the sender and not the recipient via a reverse billed number. A STOP confirmation message must be sent to the consumer to confirm the opt-out. This message should include the name of your company and the following words: “You have opted out. You will not receive additional messages”. Records of opt-out communications need to be kept. However, a sender also needs to honour an opt-out request via other channels such as via email or telephonically.

Promotional SMS competitions

SMS competitions can only be charged at R1.50 or less. This is a requirement set out in the Consumer Protection Act Regulations. There are specific rules for what information must be provided when advertising and running SMS competitions, including specifying a specific closing date and the displaying or disclosing of SMS pricing information in all adverting mediums.

Times when marketing messages can be sent

It is prohibited to send marketing message during these times: on Sundays and South African public holidays; Saturdays before 09:00 and after 13:00; and all other days between 20:00 and 08:00 the following day. However, a consumer may give a sender permission to send marketing messages during these times.

Key requirements for premium rated services

Defining PRS

Premium rated services (PRS) are those SMS service where the cost of the SMS to the consumer where the charge is higher than standard rate. These are usually 5 digit shortcodes that are used for mobile content services, promotional marketing campaigns or non-profit fundraising campaigns. ICASA’s Regulations on the Code of Conduct for Premium Rated Services (2017) have been included in the WASPA Code of Conduct.

Advertising

The advertising of PRS must clearly describe the services offered as well as the name of the company or brand providing those services. PRS must not be intentionally targeted at children.

Telephonic support

The provider of the PRS must ensure that telephonic support is available and, where possible, the telephone number is to be a toll-free number.

Subscription services

Subscription services must be advertised in the stipulated manner, inducing that it is a subscription service, the cost of the service, and the frequency of billing. A consumer must double-opt in to a subscription service and the opt-out mechanism for a subscription service cannot be a premium rated number.

Record keeping

If a complaint for a PRS is received then the organisation is required to keep accurate records of the PRS complaint for 5 years.

Links to regulations and further information

Relevant legislation and regulations:

Industry body:

Code of Conduct:

Disclaimer: The information contained in this note is for general guidance on compliance matters only. While we have made every attempt to ensure that the information contained here has been obtained from reliable sources, BulkSMS.com is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for the results obtained from the use of this information. It shall be the sole responsibility of Users of BulkSMS.com’s services to familiarise themselves with all applicable laws, regulations and codes of conduct to which they may be subject and to ensure compliance therewith.