Are free-texting apps legal?

Free Texts: What's the catch?

They say you don't get something for nothing, and that's as true of free-texting phone apps as it is of anything else. The entrepreneurs who let you dash off witty repartee with your friends have to make a profit somehow. Generally the way they do this is to compel you to look at advertisements embedded in the app while you're using it. Some providers -- ChompSMS, for example -- will let you turn off the ads, provided you pay a $6 fee via Paypal [source: Purewal].

But when you think about it, having to watch a few ads really isn't that steep of a price for texting addicts to pay in exchange for the chance to send out limitless "ROFLs" to their BFFs. It's such a great deal, in fact, that it's hard to shed the suspicion that there must be something oily about using mobile phone networks to send text messages for free, instead of using the provider's fee-based SMS. But if the lack of high-profile lawsuits by mobile carriers against free-texting providers is any indication, it seems to be perfectly legal. In fact, a number of big, deep-pockets corporate names, such as Google and Apple, recently have gotten into the act with free-texting apps of their own. So, if their lawyers aren't afraid, you probably shouldn't be either.

Mobile carriers, of course, could try to retaliate by blocking free text apps' network access or hindering it. But they might not want to go there: In February 2012, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission ruled that telecommunications companies had to let shareholders vote on whether they should have to adopt the principle of net neutrality, under which they would be barred from discriminating against any Internet services that used their networks [source: Hardawar].

Instead, mobile carriers, who lost out on an estimated $13.9 billion in 2011 due to users' switch to using free texting, may be consoling themselves with the fact that an estimated three quarters of mobile phone users around the world are still sticking to using SMS, at least for now [source: Pan]. We'll see how long that lasts. But in the meantime if you're a hardcore texter, you might as well check out the free-texting apps to see if they have a positive effect on your wallet.