Have you been without Twitter and Facebook messages via SMS texts for the last couple of months? If you're a Vodafone customer, that is.
That's because Vodafone turned off that free feature, which it proudly announced on May 12 2009, in March this year along with SMS to Facebook. Without warning.
"Twitter lends itself neatly to our SMS service, but more importantly this is a great way for our Customers [sic] to use their mobiles to stay connected with their online community," said Vodafone NZ's head of media and entertainment, Charlie Clementson, six years ago.
Clearly that's not the case any more. Vodafone is no longer on the list of supported carriers worldwide, apart from in Turkey. This is apparently a decision made at Vodafone's head office in November last year, and it's enforced in New Zealand since March this year.
Twitter didn't respond to my queries, but a Vodafone New Zealand spokesperson confirmed that the texts are no longer being delivered because the social networks are not paying for the privilege.
"To be clear, we are not 'blocking' any service: we are simply applying to Twitter and Facebook the same principles that apply to all other customers on all Vodafone networks in requiring payment for the use of services. It's important to ensure that operators are paid appropriately for the use of the networks they build and manage," the spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, users are getting caught in the crossfire between Vodafone and Twitter.
Not being able to send tweets via texts, or receive them that way, is one thing and you can definitely live without it. Ditto for Facebook communications.
The big problem is two-factor authentication on Twitter or 2FA.
This is a security feature to prevent accounts from being hijacked. When you log in to Twitter with your username and password, you're sent a code to your phone via SMS to enter as well if 2FA is enabled.
Even if someone has your username and password, they can't log in without that 2FA code sent to your phone. Facebook has a similar 2FA system using SMS.
The 2FA codes stopped arriving in early May this year on Vodafone. I thought it was a temporary glitch and there was no word from Twitter or Vodafone that the service had stopped.
Thing is, if you have 2FA enabled and don't receive the challenge codes, you can't login to Twitter, not even to turn off 2FA. Which is not what you want to do anyway, as no 2FA makes the account login much less secure.
Several people have contacted me to say they're effectively locked out of their accounts because of Twitter 2FA verification messages no longer arriving. Making it worse, Twitter's support is slow to respond to help requests.
The whole affair has been handled extremely badly by Vodafone and Twitter. First, no warning to users from Vodafone that the service will be closed - when it's being used for login authentication - is unacceptable.
Second, Twitter obviously knows Vodafone pulled the service, and could've told its users as much before they're locked out. Same with Facebook.
Presumably, emergency notifications via SMS from the Alert service will not reach Vodafone users in many countries.
The fix if you want to receive Twitter and Facebook notifications via SMS for 2FA and other reasons? Swap telcos. Spark and 2 Degrees still pass them on.
This is the usual stoush between old-fashioned telcos that want to charge for information reaching their customers, even for a service like SMS that costs just fractions of a cent per message, and internet companies that generate the data.
Telcos want to clip the ticket both ways, and receive money from subscribers and other networks. They don't want to pay for instance social media companies anything even though they're the reason for the massive increase in mobile usage. That business model is at odds with how the internet works.
Looking at the big picture, I seriously doubt Vodafone will win the fight.
Notifications and 2FA messages don't have to go via SMS - there are apps like Google Authenticator that do away with sending challenges altogether and generate these by themselves.
Microsoft already uses Google Authenticator which is open source and runs on heaps of platforms, and I'd expect Twitter and Facebook to come up with a similar solution rather being pressured to pay for SMS by Vodafone.
Vodafone in turn could escalate the war and fully snip off all connectivity to the social networks, even data. However, even though Vodafone would probably love to do that, there's no way any sane telco boss in the world would suggest such a move as users would go berserk and leave in droves.
A better solution would be not to spit the dummy and reach a compromise that doesn't leave Vodafone customers in the lurch as has happened, but maybe that's too much to ask for?