Facebook And Apple’s Messaging Dreams Face A Global Problem

Earlier this week Apple made its first public move to transform Messages into a platform that could one day be as profitable as the App Store. Now open to third party developers, Messages on just-released iOS 10 has become a place where you can download stickers and GIFs, and even “apps” like Kayak, DoorDash and Citymapper, that live within the chat interface.

Facebook And Apple's Messaging

Facebook doesn’t have an App Store in its chat app, Messenger, but it’s also turning that into a revenue driver, inviting businesses to talk to customers through chatbots. Brands are now jumping onto both Apple’s Messages and Facebook’s Messenger, and both platforms are trying to emulate the success of WeChat, the hugely popular chat app in China on which local people can order taxis, groceries or buy airline tickets – a near-portal to the web.

Yet one issue that both Facebook and Apple face in bringing this new concept to their users is the prevalence of spam on chat apps, particularly in developing nations.

More than a quarter of chat app users and 28% of people using SMS receive a spam message everyday. Around a third of these are phishing messages aimed at getting the user to tap a link that leads to their phone getting infected with malware.

The latest stats come from a survey of 6,000 consumers in nine countries by the Mobile Ecosystem Forum (MEF), a trade body for the mobile industry that includes device manufacturers and telcos. The practice of phishing purely on SMS contributes $680 million to the annual $2 billion in fraud costs paid by telcos and consumers, the forum claims.

For chat app users in America and Europe, spam is more of a nuisance, but in developing nations like Brazil, China, South Africa and Nigeria it’s a chronic problem. Some 31% of Germans have never received a phishing text, but the rate falls to just 6% in Nigeria.

The problem for Facebook and Apple is that in trying to expand their messaging platforms they’re up against a trust issue for users in these developing nations, where spam has already eroded confidence in these apps as a channel for business.

“Enterprise to consumer messaging can be an incredibly powerful tool, provided that consumers continue to trust the messages they receive,” says Robert Gertsmann of Swedish cloud company CLX Communications.

The MEF survey showed that while SMS is the channel that gets the most spam on average, it was the one (with 35% saying so) that consumers still trusted the most. Around 28% of people said they trusted messaging apps like WhatsApp the most.

Spam could turn out to be a sensitive issue particularly for Facebook, which introduced chatbots onto Messenger earlier this year, some of which have already been described as spammy.

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