[VoiceOps] SMS, iPhones and the General Currency Symbol (¤)

Peter Beckman beckman at angryox.com
Sat Feb 6 00:06:36 EST 2016

I realize this is called "Voice"Ops, but since Voice and SMS is blurry (you
can't have GSM cell phones without SMS), I'm posting.

I've been dealing with SMS the last 3 years as part of my business. I
recently added Bandwidth to the mix, and while I don't love having yet
another external dependency running Kannel SMSC, I do love the fact that
there is real standards for binary encoding of SMS messages, supporting the
all important Emoji.

I've noticed something recently, and I'm trying to get a handle on how to
deal with it.

Customers with iPhones, and maybe Android phones, send what seems like a
simple SMS message: "Where should I send the $2500 deposit?"

All of us see a simple ASCII, ISO8859-1 text, right?

Not Apple. They have to deal with the world, so they take that $ sign and
turn it into a ¤.  A what you say?

     The currency sign (¤) is a character used to denote an unspecified
     currency. It is often used in place of a symbol that is not present in
     the font in use; for example, in place of the colón (₡). It can be
     described as a circle the size of a lowercase character with four short
     radiating arms at 45° (NE), 135° (SE), 225°, (SW) and 315° (NW). It is
     raised slightly above the baseline. It is represented in Unicode as
     U+00A4 ¤ currency sign (HTML ¤ · ¤ · Windows Alt+0164).

And later...

     Even when it is appropriately used, it has an inherent ambiguous
     meaning; ¤12.50 can be interpreted as 12.5 units of some currency, but
     the currency itself is unknown, and can be determined only by
     information outside the use of the character in itself. In text-based
     discourse, such as international trading or listing exchange rates, it
     is not uncommon to refer to a given currency with its three-letter ISO
     4217 code instead of or in conjunction with a currency symbol, to avoid
     this ambiguity.

         -- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Currency_sign_%28typography%29

So I tested this. We see a message with "Where should I send the ¤2500
deposit?" come into us from our carrier. When we send it to another iPhone,
the currency symbol is transliterated (is that what happened?) back into
the $ sign.

I started assuming it was just me failing at localization, but for the life
of me I cannot find any sort of localization that converts the "General
Currency Symbol" to the localized currency symbol.

I'm of the current mindset that my job is to store the message as received,
but upon display localize this character to the locale of the current
session. That's what I'll probably do. But I wanted to throw this out here
to see if others have run into this sort of issue and how it was dealt

The only drawback of blindly converting it to the current locale is that
the value is lost when sent by the phone. I don't know what currency the
sender was using because it is abstracted away when the SMS is sent. And if
I'm in the US and put "$2500" and send that to someone in Japan it shows up
to them as "¥2500" but no actual financial conversion has been done, and
meaning is lost.

USD$2500 is ¥292,131.25 at current rates...

I'm starting to wonder what my role is as a carrier to deal with these
subtleties. Easy: Do nothing, put it in our FAQ. Hard: Convert it to the
selected Locale, explain confusion later. Hardest: Try and infer and do
realtime currency conversion, risky because that may not be the intent of
the sender or understanding of the receiver.

(probably not the latter)

Peter Beckman                                                  Internet Guy
beckman at angryox.com                                 http://www.angryox.com/

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