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How many mobile operators treat your voicemail like an irrelevant after-thought?

I’ve written extensively on voicemail. It’s a pretty boring topic most of the time. It took an enlightening and fundamentally inspiring conversation with Hullomail‘s CEO, Andy Munarriz to get me really excited about the subject.

I even ended up producing a 4-part series on The Future of Voicemail, kindly supported by the Hullomail team. In the video I interviewed a number of thought-leaders about voicemail’s future. Some of the questions and answers posed were thoroughly engaging.

One of the recurring issues throughout the series was the fact that mobile operators don’t give a toss.

Voicemail is a cost centre.

In some cases, it still generates a bit of revenue.

For the most part though, it’s completely ignored. At the operator, nobody cares. There’s been no innovation whatsoever for the best part of 10 years or more. Case in point: Some operators — still using the same now defunct equipment of yesteryear — routinely require you to ‘delete voicemail messages’ or limit you to 5 or 10 messages, because of ‘space constraints’. That might have been a challenge in 1990, but goodness me, it’s not a problem today.

The recent voicemail hacking news across the UK highlights the TOTAL LACK of innovation. Yes, back in the dark ages — when voicemail was often not a default service offering — PIN numbers were set to 0000 and, yes, it was possible to ‘hack’ into a voicemail account using this way.

This should have been addressed the moment it was raised, formally, as an issue. Operators should have issued everybody with unique PIN numbers. They should have made the decision for their customers’ safety and security.

For the most part, the operators did precisely what they love doing: Nothing. Apart from billing you and I for services and dicking around trying to innovate in other areas, namely the race-to-the-bottom of the PAYG market, screwing up MMS, making a complete hash of LBS and generally getting it all wrong. Vodafone 360. I rest my case.

Operators, to twist a memorable Edmund Blackadder quote, “Couldn’t innovate their way out of a paper bag.”

Which is why this voicemail ‘scandal’ is taking place right now.

You’d be forgiven for thinking it’s all fixed. That hacking or accessing voicemail accounts was now ‘really difficult’.

It’s not.

You just need to look at the email I received just moments ago from one senior executive working in the mobile industry. In the email, he explains that he was able to get the business team at 3UK to change his voicemail PIN by simply giving his name and address.

This means, for example, that you can — using the data freely available on my site here (the address is down the bottom of the page, the phone number is in the contacts) — phone up 3UK and do the same.

The team there will reportedly happily change your voicemail PIN on production of name, mobile number and address/postcode.

Shocking.

Ridiculous.

The executive tried to do the same with is o2 account and was unable to do so unless he provided an account number or some other ‘identity factor’ that proved he was in control of the line. This is good news for o2.

But I should point out, this experiment carried out by the reader was most certainly not objective. He didn’t phone Orange, T-Mobile or Vodafone — as he doesn’t use them.

It’s entirely conceivable that the other operators have a policy in place to prohibit staff from changing voicemail PINs without some kind of security check. I hope they do.

Similarly, it’s possible that the reader’s experience with 3UK was a wholly isolated incident.

Me? Well don’t worry about me and my personal details live on the site here.

I use Hullomail.

I don’t ever the voicemail products from my operators. No. I have everything redirected to Hullomail and Lifeisbetteron’s Voicemail service.

They redirect callers away from the tinpot voicemail systems to much more modern, much more secure third-party services. They can’t be hacked in the usual way — and the features they offer are a billion times more valuable than the bog standard operator facilities.

I strongly recommend taking a look at them.

Meanwhile: Poor show, operators. Poor, poor show.

By Ewan

Ewan is Founder and Editor of Mobile Industry Review. He writes about a wide variety of industry issues and is usually active on Twitter most days. You can read more about him or reach him with these details.

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