The Importance of Ethical Mobile Marketing

TWO OF THE MOST IMPORTANT FACTORS concerning ethical mobile marketing are privacy concerns and transparency. Mobile marketers need to respect consumers’ interests when communicating through mobile marketing. The consumer must give their permission to receive communications. It is best to be transparent about what content they will receive when they expect to receive it, and how often. All campaign communications should offer a straightforward way to opt-out of future communications. When gathering customer information, it is critical to provide proper security and promise that the information will not be shared or sold without consent. Companies engaged in unethical practices have found themselves subject to harsh penalties.

When Things Go Wrong – Case Studies


In 2004, AT&T customers were awarded refunds for an unethical billing practice called “mobile cramming.” AT&T broke the law when they added unauthorized third-party charges to customer bills and ultimately had to pay out 88 million dollars. The practice was in violation of Section 5(a) of the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. § 45(a), in connection with charging consumers for third-party monthly subscriptions that the consumers never authorized (FTC, 2014).

Tapjoy, Inc

In a recent case, hundreds of thousands of Tapjoy, Inc. customers filed complaints with the FTC after they were misled with promises of cash rewards in exchange for personal information. In 2021, the Federal Trade Commission finalized a settlement with Tapjoy over allegations that it failed to provide in-game rewards users were promised for completing advertising offers (FTC, 2014).

How Bad Practices Hurt the Consumer

Bad mobile marketing defrauds the customer in worst-case scenarios, robbing them of their savings or livelihood. Unethical mobile marketing practices most often destroy consumers’ trust in products and services. Bad mobile experiences result in time wasted, frustration, and annoyance. The result is that customers feel as though businesses don’t care about them (Google, 2012).

Penalties for violating FTC laws

The Federal Trade Commission was enacted in 1914 to stop unfair business practices and scams. Non-compliance with Federal Trade Commission laws could vary from orders to cease and desist, fines per violation, and civil penalties. As the case studies show, companies that break the law through unfair mobile marketing practices can be forced to pay out hefty customers settlements. For laws that apply, visit:

The Do’s and Don’ts of Ethical Mobile Marketing


  • Obtain permission to contact consumer through opt-in agreements
  • Offer a simple opt-out solution when sending messages
  • Be transparent and clear about costs and premium rates
  • Inform customers how their information will be used
  • Remind customers of upcoming renewal costs
  • Only send SMS between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m.
  • Promptly inform customers of security breaches
  • Be honest and trustworthy


  • Do not be deceptive
  • Do not bill hidden charges
  • Do not mislead consumers
  • Do not make it difficult to opt-out of communications
  • Do not share or sell customer information without consent


FTC. (Oct 2014). Complaint for Permanent Injunction and Other Equitable Relief.

Google. (Sept 2012). What Users Want Most from Mobile Sites Today.