Shared Short Codes
January 15, 2020
If you’ve ever used texting and text-to-give platforms like Textiful, Simple Texting, EZ Texting, Mobile Cause, One Cause, etc., you’re used to the concept of “short codes”. As opposed to “long codes” — traditional, 10-digit phone numbers — short codes are the 5 or 6 digit numbers that have been used for marketing and fundraising for a long time.
But what these platforms fail to mention are the risks of “shared short codes”. Purchasing and maintaining your own short code can be obscenely expensive — sometimes approaching $20,000 per year once all fees are included. Their answer was to purchase one or a handful of short codes, then let clients “share” them using unique keywords. That sounds fine at first…
…until you get into the implications. For one thing, it’s incredibly risky. If a single bad actor starts to spam or do anything fraudulent from that shared number, everyone else using it runs the risk of the number being shut down or blocked. Even worse, telecom companies appeared to start making moves to disallow messages from shared short codes altogether. And then there is the worst case scenario: the FCC regulating it into oblivion.
Before I left Twilio, I asked a few folks in the Numbers/Super-Network teams what they thought of the shared short code platforms. I’m pasting one of the verbatim responses:
Traditional shared short codes (where anyone can sign up and send mostly any kind of content with little or no oversight, usually by being assigned a few keywords on the code) have been banned by the telcos for over a year now. If companies like those…want to get a single short code and have full control over message content and frequency, then they can currently send messages on behalf of multiple brands. However, we have heard rumors that even that may be banned imminently. The primary risk of a shared short code is that if even one actor’s usage on the code creates complaints, it puts the entire code at jeopardy of getting shut down. In today’s climate it would be impossible to get that code up and running again. Further, we have even seen situations where one shared short code provider’s code gets shut down which then leads to the telcos shutting down all codes owned by that same company. Shared short codes may be tempting from a cost point of view, but you also put your organization at extreme risk. As far as we have been told and as far as we are aware, these kinds of use cases are now completely non-compliant by current standards and are at risk of being shut down at any moment.
Bottom line? It’s not worth it — especially once you factor in the high costs, paired with the fact that most of what these platforms provide can be replicated with a few dozen lines of code! It doesn’t have to be this way. And we’d love to partner with you to walk you through it!