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What Does the WhatsApp Purchase Mean for Organizers?

Facebook made news yesterday in a move to buy the instant messaging service WhatsApp for $19 billion in cash, stock and restricted shares. In the past five years, WhatsApp has become a stunningly popular app letting users send text, pictures, voice recordings and video messages to fellow users, while also providing the ability to set up status updates and organize contacts. Because WhatsApp works through mobile broadband, users do not pay the SMS texting fees cell phone carriers often have in their phone contracts. WhatsApp’s Co-Founder Jan Koum has kept a note on his desk reading, “No Ads! No Games! No Gimmicks!” – a testament to how simple WhatsApp has been so far for its users.

WhatsApp has nearly 450 million active users worldwide and most of them are outside the United States. However, Facebook most likely values WhatsApp’s huge popularity among younger users who are increasingly using group texting applications to communicate with friends at a rapid pace, and we imagine it values the data acquired as part of the purchase. While Facebook is already able to capitalize on the wealth of information users post about themselves on their profiles and timelines, messaging applications like WhatsApp can provide even greater access to user information through the conversations they have on the platform. What does this mean for organizers? We hope it will be good news as the mobile messaging ecosystem continues to evolve.

Mobile messaging is evolving quickly, in part due to the reluctance of wireless carriers to evolve their own text messaging gateways. Scott enjoyed reminding us of his own 2014 prediction when the news broke yesterday. What he predicted was that, “Cell Phone carriers in the US will change their behavior on governing standard message rate SMS for mass texting. There are so many forms of messenger services getting into the mobile space that the way we message each other will evolve. Newer technology will continue to erode the US cell phone carriers’ monopoly on mobile messaging.” If yesterday’s news doesn’t push carriers to take faster action on messaging, nothing will.


The Federal Election Commission Approved Donations via SMS

We are excited by yesterday’s Federal Election Commission (FEC) opinions, which gives us the opportunity to provide mobile giving to our clients in the days ahead.

After weeks of back and forth with the Commission, and major obstacles from CTIA being placed on the advisory request, we are glad that the carriers will be moving these programs forward soon.

While our team empathized with the carriers not wanting to take on the liability for each contribution, we fought for more accessibility to the mobile giving gateway, as well as more transparency from the carriers in how they approve or don’t approve specific campaigns. We were glad the FEC ruled in our favor and did not allow the wireless carriers to simply reject any political action committees’ mobile programs under a generic excuse that these programs would hurt their “branding.”

In response to the carriers’ request to reject any campaign they want, Revolution Messaging’s comments on CTIA’s advisory opinion was quoted in the Washington Post:

That prompted Revolution Messaging, a Democratic consulting firm that has another text-message proposal before the commission, to point out that carriers already sell “gangster rap ringtones, sex tip text messaging, pornography and horoscopes without hurting their brand images” — perhaps demonstrating that associating with political candidates can be more controversial than selling pornography.

Revolution Messaging was able to secure several language changes in the final advisory opinion that makes the system more transparent while stripping CTIA’s proposed arbitrary rejection of program language.

While we can begin setting up programs in the days ahead, as the carriers determine short codes, we still urge the FEC to expedite our additional advisory opinion request (AOR) as soon as possible. Our request asks for the Commission to approve additional ways to make mobile giving for federal PACs more efficient and more accessible.


We’re Raising Our Concerns of Accessibility, Affordability and Transparency to FEC About New Mobile Giving Programs

Revolution Messaging Raises Concerns of Accessibility, Affordability and Transparency to FEC About New Mobile Giving Programs

Filed comments to assure ruling provides fair pricing and equal treatment of all campaigns

Washington, DC (PRWEB) August 03, 2012 - Revolution Messaging, the progressive leaders in cutting-edge mobile strategies, took a stand on behalf of campaigns and organizations seeking to raise money via text message by calling for fairness and equality.

Revolution Messaging commented on CTIA’s request for a Federal Election Commission (FEC) Advisory Opinion to approve mobile donations that was discussed in an open hearing yesterday. This was in addition to Revolution Messaging filing their own request for an Advisory Opinion stating the current opinion as written does not make mobile giving as accessible, affordable or transparent as it should be.

While some of Revolution Messaging’s comments were addressed in yesterday’s FEC hearing, the wireless industry continued to push exclusionary practices that would allow them to approve text message fundraising for one campaign over another.

“The carrier industry clearly stated they want to avoid any controversial issues even though they gladly make money off horoscopes, obnoxious ringtones and pornography,” stated Scott Goodstein, founder of Revolution Messaging. “The irony reaches the extreme as carriers are willing to act as a payment gateway for pornographers, but not politicians. While this ruling was expedited because a congressional race wants to be able to use mobile giving, the comments we heard yesterday made it clear the carriers would not permit the same campaign to use the SMS payment gateway.”

CTIA (the wireless industry) even argues they are just like a media company and can turn down campaigns that they feel are just not appropriate.

“Let’s be honest, the carriers are simply a gateway that operate on federally funded spectrum,” Goodstein stated. “They are not limited by program time like TV or have the same concerns that people are being forced to watch a commercial they don’t like. People sign up for text messages and should be able to have payments processed for candidates or committees that they support without the fear that a carrier will impose their own political agenda on the payment gateway.”

Revolution Messaging also strongly urges the FEC to allow for a discounted political rate to be available to campaigns that would not cause an illegal in-kind contribution to be made. Currently, carriers can charge a service fee of up to 40%, which is higher than the normal rate for non-profit organizations. Since carriers already set the contribution rate for non-profits at 0%, they can easily make a political rate card that is profitable for the industry, affordable to political committees and a low enough percentage to make the service competitive with credit card processing.

“While we are excited the FEC is going to rule on allowing mobile payments, we urge them to make sure the ruling is issued in a way that does not allow a carrier to favor one political action committee over another by allowing one to use this payment system and not allowing another,” Goodstein said. “We recognize and are empathetic to the carriers’ concerns regarding liability, but we need to achieve a balance of protecting the carriers while also fairly opening the system to the campaigns who want to utilize it.”

Listen to the FEC hearing on text message donations.


Calling on the FEC to Make New Mobile Giving Program Accessible, Affordable & Transparent

Progressive Mobile Strategy Firm Asks FEC to Make New Mobile Giving Program Accessible, Affordable & Transparent 

Washington, DC – Revolution Messaging, the progressive leaders in cutting-edge mobile strategies, today took a stand on behalf of campaigns and organizations seeking to raise money via-text message.  The organization filed a request for Advisory Opinion with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) saying the current advisory opinion as issued does not make mobile giving as accessible, affordable or transparent as it should be.

“If the Federal Election Commission is serious about helping federal political committees take advantage of the most innovative technologies, they will consider these changes,” said Revolution Messaging’s Founder and CEO Scott Goodstein.  “We recognize and are empathetic to the carriers concerns regarding liability, but we need to achieve a balance that protects the carriers while also fairly opens the system to the campaigns who want to utilize it.”

Revolution Messaging outlined several areas that need to be addressed in order to render the contributions by text message system workable for actual campaigns.

Accessibility:  In order to allow more federal political action committees and campaigns to take advantage of these new and innovative way to raise money, through mobile phones, several changes need to be made.  This includes allowing campaigns to share short codes, which is the infrastructure behind the service. Currently each organization needs its own code, which is costly and time consuming to seek approval for each.  Revolution Messaging is proposing a system whereby committees and campaigns can share short codes, cutting down the cost and turn-around time for these fast moving organizations.

Affordability:  Revolution Messaging strongly urges the FEC to cut the cost of collecting donations through this system.  Currently, carriers can charge a service fee of 40 percent, which is higher than the usual and normal rate for non-profit organizations.  In fact, purveyors of pornography and horoscopes are the types of organizations that pay up to a 40 percent service fee.  Political committees should not be treated the same as these types of organizations, and the rate should be low enough to make the service competitive with credit card processing.

Transparent:  In order to create a system that is widely used, it is important that there betransparency as to who can use the service. In other words, CTIA and the carriers should not be able to decide which federal campaign gets to register or promote a short code and which campaigns or committees do not.  The FEC has never allowed private groups determine who should be allowed into a vehicle of raising money and who should not..  Revolution Messaging believes that the FEC should not allow codes to be approved or not approved based on if the carrier likes a campaign or a candidate or does not like a campaign or candidate.

Another important variable in the move towards transparency is allowing users to report their identification information to expand the service beyond the anonymous $50 per billing cycle donations allowed currently.  Revolution Messaging is uniquely positioned to implement safeguards against illegal contributions, while at the same time collecting the information required for political contributions.  They maintain the ability to responsibly collect and maintain wireless user data, including the name, address, employer and occupation of specific wireless number users.


More Insight into the FEC’s Ruling on Political Donations via SMS

You may have heard the exciting news regarding the Federal Election Commission’s (FEC) approval of a new form of mobile giving for federal campaigns. After much debate, the FEC’s final ruling now allows for campaigns and political action committees to receive up to $50 per billing cycle in contributions through a simple text message. There is no need for a credit card or writing a check – the contribution will be charged straight to the users’ wireless bill.

This is similar to what nonprofits did to raise money in response to natural disasters through a simple text message. The Red Cross is the most well known example and the group that first took advantage of this giving system with the help of Revolution Messaging’s own partner, Doug Busk. Busk pioneered this mobile payment gateway in 2004. Since its inception, the Red Cross raised millions of dollars of aid and instant relief with mobile contributions

While the above example is inspiring, and has political campaigns on the edge of their seat around the 2012 cycle, there are still a lot of questions up in the air that we must be cognizant of. First and foremost, while the FEC may have approved this donation structure, that does not mean we can start mobile giving programs right away. The mobile giving solution was created in 2004, but it took carriers until 2008 to figure out all the details of how payments will work, when the donations would be delivered, etc. Even with an accelerated timeline, this is not an overnight process.

Why would the carriers take that long to figure everything out? Because there is a lot more that goes into this form of mobile payment than meets the eye. A major question that needs to be answered is what will the percentage be that the carriers will take as a result of doing their part in this system? Currently, there is an industry fair market value rate of between a 30% and 50% take for premium text message services, such as horoscopes and ringtones.

The carriers need to be careful when they are setting a fair market value rate for political giving campaigns because they can’t play favorites by giving a lower rate to one political campaign’s mobile program over another. A major factor that will need to be weighed by anyone working in politics is will this new fee structure be worth it? Especially when there are other forms of mobile payment available that have a lower fee charged on the donation.

As you can see, the FEC’s approval is just the first step in figuring out how we can successfully and efficiently implement a mobile giving system for political campaigns. What would help move this process along? Having one or more of the carriers weigh in publicly on their plans, or even the FCC outline their preference on guidelines for the industry.

So for now, we should all be cautiously excited at the thoughts of where mobile fundraising will be at the end of 2012. It’s an exciting new frontier to see mobile political contributions quickly evolving and the FEC should be thanked for pushing this issue forward.


Is Your Mobile Privacy at Risk?

Here at Revolution Messaging we have made it a priority to support a safe, secure and open Internet experience for all users. Now we’re reminding our friends and family to be vigilant and demand a safe and secure mobile experience as well. Your mobile privacy is at risk, and it is up to concerned users like you to help spread the word!

A piece of software found on mobile devices, called Carrier IQ, could be storing personal data and tracking mobile users’ experience, and sending this information straight to the carriers. According to PC World, this software was discovered by security researcher Trevor Eckhart who published a report accusing the company of preloading this software on a number of different smartphones (without the consumers’ knowledge), where it could allow carriers to keep track of “key presses, browsing history, SMS logs, and location data without the users knowledge.”

First discovered on Sprint phones back in September, which prompted the first round of lawsuits, Carrier IQ is raising concerns not only with customers, but also with legislators. According to FierceMobileContent, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn) sent Carrier IQ a letter asking them to answer questions about its questionable data collection practices by December 14th.

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass), co-Chair of the Congressional Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus, also got involved by starting to lobby the Federal Trade Commission to look into the firm’s practices. In addition to earlier lawsuits against Sprint in September, multiple law firms jointly filed a class action lawsuit in a Delaware Federal Court against Apple, HTC, Samsung, Motorola, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Carrier IQ, deeming this a “cell phone tracking software scandal.”

 AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile admitted to using Carrier IQ, but just to improve their network performance. Apple also said they used this software, but announced they stopped supporting the software in iPhones and will take it off all future iPhones. Verizon, RIM and Nokia denied using this software on their devices.

Carrier IQ denies that it stores and sends private user data. Last week, they released a statement saying “operators use Carrier IQ software only to diagnose operational problems on networks and mobile devices,” and that they are a “consumer advocate to the mobile operator.”

“The software receives a huge amount of information from the operating system,” Andrew Coward, Carrier IQ’s VP of marketing, told AllThingsD. “But just because it receives it doesn’t mean that it’s being used to gather intelligence about the user or passed along to the carrier.”

Consumer Watchdog, a non-profit consumer education and advocacy organization, is also involved, petitioning the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission to look into this issue as well. This issue has also been recognized internationally; groups across Europe are looking into this issue to make sure mobile users’ privacy isn’t being compromised.  The lawsuit being filed jointly in the Delaware Federal Court says that Carrier IQ and the associated carriers violated the Federal Wiretap Act, the Stored Electronic Communications Act, and the Federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

“This latest revelation of corporate America’s brazen disregard for the digital privacy rights of its customers is yet another example of the escalating erosion of liberty in this country,” David Straite, one of the lawyers leading this crusade, said in a statement. ”We are hopeful that the courts will allow ordinary customers the opportunity to remedy this outrageous breach.”

This isn’t something we as mobile consumers should take lightly. While Carrier IQ claims they are not collecting private data and sharing this information with carriers without our knowledge, there is a need for a thorough investigation into this issue. As consumers, we can’t stand idly by and watch from the sidelines, we must demand for a safe space in the mobile world and educate others of the different dangers we are now seeing. Protecting consumer privacy should always be the number one priority and right now, finding out the truth behind Carrier IQ’s software is a must.

 


The Newest Messaging System in Town

A new messaging system is in town – one more system that the media is saying will threaten SMS messaging: Facebook Messenger. Surprised that Facebook is behind this new app? They seem to be rolling out something new every week and this week it happens to be a new way for people to text each other without paying carriers’ SMS fees.

In a past post, we wrote about the potential for Apple’s messaging system, iMessage (released in June 2011), to influence carriers to alleviate some of the costly text messaging fees on its users in order to keep people from abandoning SMS and fully adopting a free approach. Now, these messaging systems are not anywhere close to making SMS obsolete, but could Facebook Messenger be another push in the right, and cheaper, direction?

Facebook Messenger may be even more appealing to the masses since it can be linked to their Facebook account – an account we all know is used multiple times a day by most people. This part has seemed to stir up some controversy regarding the privacy of your phone’s address book. However, with this new app, the syncing capabilities will be appreciated: the text messages sent will automatically be stored in the messaging center of their Facebook account for easy access.

And what happens if the user you try to contact through Facebook Messenger isn’t signed in? It just shows up on their phone as an SMS text – a very mobile centric system. No matter whether you send a text through the app or send a message through Facebook or an IM through Facebook’s instant messaging system, all the messages will end up in one thread keeping users organized and having their past conversations in one easy location.

Is this enough to ask our carriers to start caring about losing potential users to new messaging apps that may turn people away from purchasing SMS packages for their cell phones? Verizon, why will people want to pay you per incoming and outgoing texts if they can send one for free with Facebook Messenger? AT&T, why will your customers continue to buy into expensive unlimited SMS packages when they have free, unlimited messages with iMessages? This is another group stepping into the world of messaging systems and, hopefully, this group adds more competition to the field of SMS, creating an urgent environment for the carriers to generate a more just system for the users.


The Drawbacks of Text-to-Donate

California Governor Jerry Brown declared his support for allowing campaigns in California to start accepting donations via text message. On the surface this seems like a no-brainer as online donations have brought millions, if not billions, of dollars into campaigns through large and small donations. But text-to-donate has way too many drawbacks before it becomes a political reality.

Drawback one: Reporting. Currently, it’s illegal for a campaign to accept money via text message. Mobile carriers are not setup to track compliance data. So is the donor actually eligible to give? Are they an American over the age of majority? Have they exceeded campaign donation limits? Are they an employee of the Government? None of this information is currently available on a national level and probably won’t be for California elections.

Drawback two: Waiting. Mobile donations can take 90 days to process. Except in the case of the Haiti earthquake, mobile carriers wait until customers pay their bills before they start writing checks to the beneficiary. In the case of many special elections, runoffs or general elections, the 90-day period before a campaign gets its check from the mobile carrier may be post-Election Day.

Drawback three: Donation size. Mobile carriers aren’t credit card companies. They are in the business of taking money, not handing it out. Many carriers won’t start cutting checks until the amount donated has reached a certain threshold. For smaller or less popular campaigns this means the money could never come. Donors will be charged and the donations will be collected, but the campaign won’t see the money.

Drawback four: Fees. Mobile phone companies allow 501(c)(3) non-profits the ability to collect donations via text for a small charge or sometimes for free. But campaigns may not fit into that category. At this point, there isn’t a category for political campaigns and mobile giving fees are high, really high – 20 to 50 percent high. So now, a $5 donation is really worth $2.50. It’s up to the carriers to waive or lower this fee. Does Verizon really want to lower the fees for every person running for office in the entire state of California? Or for all political campaigns if this law can work on a federal level one day? Until then, it’s very cost prohibitive.

Drawback five: Digital Divide. Users with prepaid phones cannot participate nor can Cricket mobile customers, as Cricket doesn’t allow subscribers access to the shortcodes necessary to donate.

While mobile giving is certainly a great way to allow instant and small donations, it’s not feasible right now. The carriers need to change the way they operate, and states and the federal government need to adjust required disclosures for mobile giving. Once that happens, then we can begin the discussion on using mobile giving for campaigns. But simply allowing mobile donations in California is not the way to do it. If Governor Brown wants to bring something into the online age, he should start with online voter registration.