The mobile phone emoticons that could wipe the smile off your face :-(

Hairdresser landed £1,200 bill after older smartphone converted SMS emojis into much dearer MMS picture messages

You might send one to signal your upbeat mood, but adding a smiley-faced emoticon to your text messages could leave you with a bill running into hundreds of pounds :(

Users of some older smartphones including those from Samsung and reportedly Apple and HTC are finding that when they send a text message that includes a smiley face or other emoticon, the handset converts the SMS to a picture message.

Also known as multimedia messages or MMSs, they can be as much as three times the cost of a standard text, meaning that regular users of emoticons can find themselves landed with an unexpectedly high bill at the end of the month.

“The problem is that MMS is stuck in a timewarp,” said Ernest Doku, a telecoms expert at “You have now got lots of data-driven services, such as WhatsApp, where people can send messages that are as long as they like with low charges.

“But when emoticons are sent as part of a normal text message, they are sometimes being classified as images, thereby making the message a multimedia one, and the cost of these [MMS messages] is not included in any data packages.”

Britain’s biggest network, EE, charges 40p for an MMS, compared with 12p for a standard text. Three charges 31p for an MMS and 2p for an SMS on its pay-as-you-go tariff.

This week the Daily Record reported on the case of a woman who racked up a £1,200 bill over four months through the use of emoticons in texts.

Hairdresser Paula Cochrane told the Record: “The adviser [at EE] explained that the charges were for emoticons, the Japanese smiley face symbols. I couldn’t believe it.”

The consumer website first drew attention to the problem in December last year, reporting that the issue was one that affected only Samsung phones, but other reports suggest the issue is more widespread.

A BBC report said iPhones may also be affected, a claim backed up by postings on some internet forums.

Apple declined to comment, but said iPhone users can send free messages to other iOS or Mac users using iMessage over Wi-Fi. iPhones have an optional setting to disable MMS.

A separate source told the Guardian they had seen evidence of the problem occurring on some older HTC phones, although a warning message was sent to the user that the SMS was being sent as an MMS.

The mobile network operators are keen to blame the manufacturers, as the problem is limited to certain handsets.

“Some smartphones may convert text messages [SMS] into picture messages [MMS] resulting in customers being charged for MMS messages when they were unaware of sending them to begin with,” said O2. “This is something that can happen but it is down to the handset and not as a result of the O2 network or the settings used for the O2 service.”

EE said: “There are a number of factors which can affect whether customers are charged for sending an emoji usually by the settings on the handset and so is a manufacturer – rather than a network – issue.”

O2 said if someone were using a smartphone to send text messages to more than one person at the same time, they could be charged the cost of sending an MMS and that the same charges could apply when the message contains an email address.

It also said some apps, such as Facebook, which integrate with someone’s contact list in their smartphone may result in an MMS charge too.

“To stop this happening, customers should make sure they don’t include symbols, icons or emoticons and also disable the integration between their contact list and apps like Facebook,” the O2 said, adding that many smartphones alert customers when an SMS is being converted to an MMS.

Samsung told that every device launched since April 2014 has a default setting that classifies emojis as an SMS and not an MMS. It said that for older devices, however, such as the Galaxy S4, emojis will lead to messages being converted from an SMS into an MMS.

It added that a warning message is displayed to inform the user that their message will be sent as an MMS.

HTC could not be reached for comment, but it told that its handsets did not convert SMS to MMS.

The telecoms regulator Ofcom said: “We are concerned to hear about people being charged more than they expected for using emoticons. We expect operators to make clear how much different kinds of messages cost, and when those charges apply.

“Ofcom has clear rules to ensure that prices are transparent, and we will be discussing with operators how they are explaining these charges to their customers.”

In a recent survey into unexpectedly high bills the watchdog found that 4% of the 5,700 people surveyed said they had received a high bill caused by unexpected charges for emoticons.

Guy Anker from said he thought network operators needed to take some of the blame.

“It is worth complaining to mobile phone providers if it was not made clear enough to you when you would be charged for a picture message,” he said.

“Why on Earth would someone sending a text message think it would be sent as a picture message?”


Lisa Bachelor

The GuardianTramp

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