Mobile Services Operator Cellfish Sued Over Billing Practices

Jun 5, 2009 12:15 PM PST
SEATTLE — Cellfish is the latest mobile services operator to face accusations of letting aggregators charge cellphone customers for services they didn't ask for.

Cellfish is a major player in mobile services publishing with more than 14 million clients in the world who subscribe to the service. The company offers not only hundreds of thousands of ringtones, wallpapers and games, but it also distributes third-party softcore porn images and video.

Recent softcore videos include scenes from BangBros.com and PornKu.com, among others.

Numerous court settlements have been handed down through the years for premium mobile content fees, where companies like Cellfish have delivered content that is collected from customers by piggybacking on cellphone bills sent out by wireless carriers. Recent class-action suits have involved AT&T, as well as Mobile Messenger Americas. Both of those suits ended up in settlements.

The recent suit filed against Cellfish by Washington state resident Joshua Nicol claims that the company is illegally charging customers for the content. The suit seeks class-action status.

“Unlike transactions made using checks and credit cards, which require a signature or a highly private 16-digit credit card number, the only information a mobile content provider needs to charge a consumer for its products is the consumer’s cellphone number, it can cause that consumer to be billed for services and products irrespective of whether the consumer actually agreed to purchase them,” according to the suit.

Cellfish, which did not respond to XBIZ for comment on the suit, contracts billing to a third-party billing aggregator — in the suit’s case, m-Qube Inc. — and not the cellphone carrier. The billing aggregator then instructs the relevant cellular carrier to add the charges to the bill associated with the cellphone number.

The suit, filed at King County Superior Court, continues to say that because of Cellfish’s business model, the likelihood of false charges are enormous.

“If Cellfish wanted to end this illegal billing, it could do so in an instant,” the suit said. “All it would have to do to ensure that it is obtaining the consent of the charged party is agree to use a unique access code for each customer account.

“But instead of implementing such a simple safeguard, Cellfish has intentionally created and maintained a system that encourages wrongdoing at every step. Such system results in the wrongful charging of small amounts of money to large numbers of people.”

The suit seeks an award for damages against the class, as well as attorneys fees.

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