Following a series of consumer complaints and the resulting investigation by Premium Rate Services regulator ICSTIS, one of the service providers for the Jamba! Crazy Frog ringtone has been fined GBP 40,000.
The December 7th hearing was attended by mBlox and Jamba!, though the regulator's jurisdiction only extends to service providers and not content providers.
mBlox argued that the regulatory body should be empowered to regulate the content providers directly, calling for a judicial review of the current interpretation of the ICSTIS code.
The complaints relate to the Crazy Frog ringtone, which a number of customers believed to be a single download with a one-off payment. In fact, customers who downloaded the ringtone were, in most cases unknowingly, subscribing to a premium rate subscription service.
The hearing panel found that the promotions for the crazy frog ringtones and those of its associated characters using the 88888 SMS shortcode required "a lot of interpretation, application and patience from consumers" in order to fully understand exactly what it was they were agreeing to.
"A great deal of thought had gone into producing the advertisements but, in contrast, little time appeared to have been spent on the terms and conditions," the regulator stated.
ICSTIS Director, George Kidd, said: "The Hearing Panel has made clear that consumers should not be made to work to find out what any premium rate service involves or costs. Although the Panel found that there was no fraudulent or malicious intent behind the service, the companies concerned showed a careless disregard and unprofessional attitude to consumers in failing to be clear on the exact nature of the service."
mBlox has been fined GBP 40,000 and ordered to refund the 338 customers who registered a complaint with ICSTIS. The Crazy Frog character, which became something of a cultural phenomenon and has amassed a substantial amount of revenue for Jamba! and its partners, has been the focal point of numerous complaints.
In September, MTV Networks subsidiary MTV Central announced a ban on ringtone adverts during prime-time viewing hours, following hundreds of viewer complaints. Similar complaints relating to the persistent and misleading advertising and specific targeting of children were investigated by the Dutch Consumer Watchdog, a German regulator protecting minors from unsuitable media practices and the UK's Advertising Standards Agency.