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November 30, 2010

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Government texts no laughing matter

HEARD the one about the government department that's been sending cell phone customers jokes and asking them to text back for the punchline?

For hundreds of mobile phone users complaining online about strange SMS messages asking them to read jokes, undertake psychological tests and learn poems were surprised to discover they came from a government office.

One tells the story of a duck going into a pub - asking recipients to text back for the ending. Another promises "the hottest psychological test in Japan to test your attitude in love. Reply with '1' to read more."

The messages came from "Shuang Tui Office," - a committee office promoting citywide learning of Mandarin and English - in partnership with China Mobile.

In the messages Shuang Tui says that the free service is a public benefit activity to help local residents learn English on their cell phones.

However, customers who sign up only receive the service for two months, then are charged 2 yuan (30 US cents) a month as a product of China Mobile.

And recipients complain that they didn't volunteer to participate in the activity. "I've been receiving these strange messages since last week but I never applied for them," said a netizen on

According to China Mobile, the messages are sent to customers at random, but can be canceled at any time.

Some web users also complained that the information in the messages was incomplete, and they had to reply with messages, at a charge of 0.1 yuan by China Mobile, to read the conclusion.

A Shanghai Daily investigation has discovered that the service was first run by Muuzii Technologies. An official of the company refused to answer whether the company was involved in the "public benefit activity."

Concerns have also been raised as to whether a government department is trying to promote a mobile phone service product in the name of a public benefit activity - thus winning income for China Mobile and cashing in as a partner.

"How can they describe the hype of a commercial product a 'public benefit activity?'" asked a web user on

An official surnamed Chen with Shanghai Civic Enhancement Committee Office, which oversees Shuang Tui, said this was an attempt at promoting English learning by sending messages over a two-month period.


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