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updated 11/14/2003 6:51:58 AM ET 2003-11-14T11:51:58

Early adopters of text messaging on cell phones are getting a taste of a new, annoying flavor of spam, though it hasn’t reached the same volume as inbox-clogging junk e-mail. Regulators and cell phone carriers want to keep it that way. New laws and regulations are specifically aimed at curtailing the tide of unwanted short message service (SMS) spam.

THIS TREND IS especially evident in Europe and Asia, where the technology is more widely used than in the United States.

Last month, the European Union enacted new digital privacy rules that require companies to obtain consent before they send e-mail and SMS text messages to mobile phones. Each of the EU’s 15 members and 10 countries joining in May will set their own penalties.

Companies, particularly providers, are moving to make it easier to report abusers, said Paul Budde, an Australian telecommunications analyst who follows the issue worldwide.

In Britain, Vodafone, one of the country’s biggest service providers, launched a trial service to allow its users to report when they get an unsolicited text message.

If they get one, they can forward it, at no cost, to Vodafone. The company, in turn, will forward it to Britain’s Standards of Telephone Information Services.

Other countries have already put into place mechanisms for fining abusers. In South Korea, for example, the Ministry of Information and Communications will fine spammers as much as $8,500 for SMS spam abuse.

As it stands, advertisers in South Korea can send SMS ads, but they have to be labeled as such. Consumers can opt out, too. The SMS ads cannot be sent out between 9 p.m. and 8 a.m.

The South Korean government has been enforcing the regulations since October, after they were established in mid-September. So far, no one has been fined.

While the sender of SMS spam incurs charges when it originates on the cell phone network, they pay nothing when the spam is sent to that network from an Internet e-mail account.

In May, Telstra Australia launched a text service for small- to mid-sized business to let them send text messages to as many as 5,000 mobile phones at once from any Internet-connected computer, regardless of which provider they use.

There are legitimate uses for such messages, but the service has caused some alarm because of the potential for spam, Budde said.

The Australian government is debating a bill that would make people who send unsolicited SMS and e-mail spam liable to fines ranging from $31,500 for individuals and $158,000 for companies, said Australian Communications Authority spokesman Paul Slocum.

© 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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