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Apps like Truecaller and Trai’s Do Not Disturb, or DND 2.0, allow users to report spam calls and messages and then use the crowd-sourced data to warn users about the flagged numbers. However, these tools are not fully effective.
Apps like Truecaller and Trai’s Do Not Disturb, or DND 2.0, allow users to report spam calls and messages and then use the crowd-sourced data to warn users about the flagged numbers. However, these tools are not fully effective.

Why we’re unable to stop the menace of spam calls, texts

Report shows 96% of Indians get promotional messages daily; banks are biggest spammers

Rahul Kumar, a software engineer in Noida, is flooded with marketing calls and messages from unknown numbers every day. Despite using an app that can identify such messages and calls and block them, a new unwanted call or text message pops up on his phone’s screen frequently.

Kumar isn’t alone in his exasperation with mobile marketing spam. According to a December 2018 report by Truecaller, India was second on the list of countries worst affected by spam calls last year. Another survey by online community platform LocalCircles shows 96% of Indians get promotional text messages every day and half of them reported getting 4-7 such messages on a daily basis. In case of spam calls, the Truecaller report claims that 91% of them are made by operators themselves, while in case of messages, banks are allegedly the biggest spammers.

Apps like Truecaller and Trai’s Do Not Disturb, or DND 2.0, allow users to report spam calls and messages and then use the crowd-sourced data to warn users about the flagged numbers. However, these tools are not fully effective.

One reason: Savvy marketers in the US, for instance, use voice over internet protocol (VoIP) technology to make these unwanted calls instead of using a traditional telephone line. This allows them to imitate a different phone number every time and bypass spam identification networks, explained Paul Dunlop, product manager, Google Phone app, in a Google blog post.

In countries like India where these services are not allowed by operators, marketers use multiple connections and frequently switch SIM cards. Free SMS and unlimited calling offered by some operators allow such networks to thrive at a low cost. “Existing rules require telemarketers to register their numbers and check the DND registry before making unsolicited calls. However, many unregistered telemarketers work outside the system. Even if customer’s report them, they quickly change their number which makes regulating them difficult," rues Rajan S. Mathews, director general, Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI).

Persistent failure to curb spam calls can be attributed to the lax attitude of operators and the passive attitude of users to some extent. Mathews says only 30% subscribers have registered on the DND registry so far.

Operators, too, have not taken major steps to check spam calls, and left it to the consumer to protect themselves, which was rarely done due to lack of awareness or time. As a result, the frequency of mobile spam has increased rather than decreased, says Tarun Pathak, associate director, mobile devices and ecosystems, Counterpoint Research. While Reliance Jio clamped down on the misuse of unlimited calls and messages by putting a cap of 300 minutes on voice calls per day, the fact remains 91% spam calls are made by telcos themselves.

Faisal Kawoosa, founder and chief analyst, techARC points out that brands behind telemarketing campaigns also need to take an ethical stand. For instance, most marketing calls in the banking, financial services and insurance (BFSI) sector are made by sales agents who call users multiple times even if they have said no to the same service earlier.

Instead of multiple agents calling users, if the banks consolidate their services, and reach out to users with a single number, these agents will use the number conscientiously, suggests Kawoosa.

Mathews of COAI believes a new order issued by Trai in July of 2018 against unwanted calls and messages—which will be implemented by the industry in the next few months—will be an effective weapon against this nuisance. But part of it also depends on customers registering with this new directory that will be set up by telecom operators.

The platform will use Blockchain (a distributed ledger technology that is best known for powering cryptocurrencies) to regulate telemarketers. It will ensure only registered ones can access users’ phone numbers , and their consent to receive such communication will be explicitly required. Till, then, it appears that consumers will have to bear the annoyance of being bombarded with spam messages and calls.

How to avoid spam texts and calls

■ Apps such as Truecaller and DND 2.0 use crowdsourced data to warn users of spam calls and messages

■ Users can register their number with the DND directory by sending an SMS saying START 0 to 1909

■ To partially block spam calls, users need to send an SMS to 1909 saying START with the number between 1 and 7 specified for each industry

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