Firm Settles With Florida Over Deceptive Mobile Content Offers

A major mobile content seller will pay Florida’s Attorney General $1 million to avoid charges that its online offers violated the state’s consumer protection laws.

California-based Mobile Messenger relies on online ads to get mobile phone users to sign up for its mobile horoscopes, “flirting tips,” and other content services that are billed through their carriers. According to the Florida AG, many of those ads and the transaction pages they pointed to failed to conspicuously disclose the true cost of that content. (To read ClickZ’s in-depth look into Mobile Messenger’s business see, “Top Online Advertiser Making a Raw Impression.”)

In addition, Mobile Messenger has agreed to be upfront with consumers about the price and other important terms of purchase.

“Every time mobile content is purchased, the person making that purchase deserves to know what he or she is getting and will ultimately end up paying,” said Attorney General Bill McCollum in a statement. “These compliance standards are leading the nation in reigning in the mobile content industry and holding all parties accountable.”

The $1 million payment will support the AG’s CyberFraud division’s ongoing investigations into deceptive mobile marketing practices.

Mobile Messenger, listed as a member of the Mobile Marketing Association, has been on the radar of Florida’s CyberFraud investigators for at least a year. Back in December 2007, Tallahassee bureau chief Michael Palecki told ClickZ that Florida prosecutors believed the company was in violation of state law.

“Any company that uses deceptive advertising with young people… will be targeted,” he said.

The Attorney General has shown a willingness to back up such tough talk with actions. In addition to open investigations of at eight firms it believes are supporting misleading mobile content offers, the state has already reached similar settlements with numerous others, including M-Qube ($500,000) AzoogleAds ($1 million) and AT&T Mobility ($2.5 million).

Mobile carriers, which have benefited from the premium SMS costs associated with many deceptive mobile content offers, are a key target for the Attorney General. Other cellular operators under investigation include Verizon, Sprint/Nextel, Alltel and T-Mobile.

“We are taking a top-down approach and trying to get the largest cell phone companies on board so as to be able to effect the most widespread change in the shortest period of time,” Sandi Copes, press secretary for Florida’s Office of the Attorney General told ClickZ News at the time of AT&T’s settlement.

Online affiliate sites also continue to find themselves the target of the state’s investigators. In that group, Think Partnership, Traffix, and Media Breakaway all appear on the AG’s list.

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