One story that was
circulated in social circles in Hong Kong involves a wealthy
businessman and a famous Chinese restaurant. As a closure to his meal
with some partners, the businessman ordered red bean soup, a popular
Chinese dessert. The waiter then asked casually whether he would like
some dried tangerine peel with it, to which the businessman answered in
When the businessman later asked for
his bill and glanced at the total, he was astounded to find that each
bowl of the red bean soup, which typically costs between $3-4, was
listed at over $30. When he asked the waiter "why", he was told that
the dried tangerine peel he had ordered were actually
"thousand-year-old" ones - a few thin strips of which led to the
drastically inflated price.
The moral of the story
is that there are some practices that can be construed as unscrupulous,
even though the waiter may have (naturally) thought that a wealthy
businessman out for dinner would expect the best quality food, hence
served him the "thousand-year" stock. Still getting a bill that is ten
times what you expected in the first place, comes as a bit of a shock.
was precisely what happened to a mobile user with one of Hong Kong's
leading mobile operator.
The user had given a phone,
complete with a subscription plan, to his father. A few months later,
he found that the bill had more than doubled. He asked his father what
kind of calls he had been making, but his father said just regular
calls. His father did complain that the phone receives regular text
messages listing the price of some Hong Kong stocks.
After looking into the matter,
he discovered that the network had signed his father up for an
information service that provided updated stock information. Each one
of those text messages costs money, and there were many during the
course of a day. He called customer service at the operator to
explain the situation and asked that they cancel the service and waived
previous charges because it was obviously a mistake and his father had
not purposely signed up for such a service. The customer service staff
called back after checking with their back-office personnel and
explained that they had records of the usage and the charges were right.
arguing further, the user asked a couple of simple questions:
you disable the feature for this number in the future? "No, we can't do
that since the system is programmed to accept these
services." Do you have any proof that this number actually
signed up for this service? "No. Actually, it is the content provider
that is offering and charging for this service, we are just the network
that delivers it and we take care of the billing."
are some obvious problems with this whole situation. The contract that
the user signed originally is between him and the operator only, not
with any content provider. So any charge that the content provider
claims from the user is not valid. Otherwise, the content provider can
start charging "thousand-year" versions of information.
raises a serious question on the mobile Internet. Unlike the Internet,
where any registration or pay content requires a verified credit card
number, or PayPal account, the mobile Internet already provides content
providers with a pre-registered account - their mobile number.
without having to confirm registration, subscription and payment,
content providers can theoretically sign people up automatically and
start charging them money. And that is what happened to the user in
According to his investigation, the
content provider conducted a trial of the service and automatically
delivered the information to some users. If the users didn't select to
decline, or cancel, the service after the free trial period, then they
began charging people for the service.
after escalating his dispute to the management level at the operator,
won his case, and the fees were waived.
more users are out there receiving services that they are not aware
they had to pay for? How many others have ended up paying the bills
afterward without know why?