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There's No Such Thing as a Free Ringtone!

There is nothing worse than being duped. Not only do you feel like an idiot, you are left to pay for an item or service you don・t want. The latest scam is the ringtone subscription service. Companies advertising free ringtone downloads, targeted at teenagers, have caught many users in expensive subscription .clubs・. The con is simple: Aggressively market your product as :free;, wait until a user enters their mobile number to access the :free; download, then send the user 30 ringtones a month at a cost of 5 USD per ringtone. Premium SMS subscription services, like ringtone .clubs・ allow mobile phones to be used like credit cards.

Legality is addressed in the terms and conditions agreement, a small box on the subscription form that must be ticked before processing. Written in practically illegible 9pt sans serif text, terms and conditions usually pop up in a small window which must then be maximised. Typically, the word .subscription・ and service pricing appear only in the terms and conditions. For example:

By clicking the :COMPLETE; button you agree to subscribe to Any Club's ringtone service. You will be sent your choice of ringtone FREE of charge as a bonus for joining Any Club. The service allows you to download up to 4 ringtones each week. The US$4.95 charge will be billed to your mobile bill twice per week. To stop this subscription service at any time, SMS :STOP;, to short code 77777777. Your phone must be polyphonic compatible, be Internet-enabled and have text messaging capability. You must be the owner of this device and either be at least sixteen years old or have the permission of your parent or guardian. Artist names used for identification purposes only. Standard text messaging rates apply. For help contact customer service at 1-123-456-789.

This standard terms and conditions script can be found at any ringtone website purporting to provide free content. In practice, terms and conditions protect the ringtone supplier, once the box is checked the customer can be said to have recognised the stipulations of the agreement. Thus the blame is conveniently shifted from the ringtone supplier, to the customer. The customer, it is claimed, should have read the terms despite being (mis)led to the website on the pretense of free content. Recently, thanks to a spate of consumer complaints, several ringtone providers have been forced to change their advertising policy.

In the UK complaints of misleading advertising against ringtone company Jamster! have been upheld by the Advertising Standards Authority. In the US a lawsuit has been brought against Jamster!, accusing the .Crazy Frog・ proprietors of fraud, false advertising, unfair business practices. Legal action may result in greater transparency on behalf of operators like Jamster! However, consumers should recall the cliche :there・s no such thing as a free lunch;, and be highly suspicious of any website offering free mobile content.

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