TRAI TRAI….. and FAIL [The New Spam SMS Regulation]?

[Editorial Notes: The new spam regulation process is all set to create confusion for consumers. Sagar Bedmutha,  Founder & CEO of Pune based Optinno (the company behind  smsBlocker product) demystifies the new regulation. He can be reached on twitter @sagarbedmutha]

Last week I travelled to Bangalore via bus. I did not carry the physical ticket as the SMS ticket was enough. It was such a relief- from taking the prints and carrying along. But soon, I’ll have to go back to the paper way as TRAI’s new policy on spam SMS is getting implemented from 27th September.try_fail

Once again, TRAI’s intentions are good but they are full with some major flaws. In an attempt to curb unsolicited messaging, the new regulations are killing the whole convenience of SMS communication.

Consider some of the prominent issues:

1. Confusion-Confusion- And more confusion

TRAI should first stick to some of the terms it coined. They started with NDNC (National Do Not Call registry) which went on to become DND (Do Not Disturb) and it is now re-phrased as NCPR (National Call Preference Registry). What is the rationale behind changing the name each time a new policy is introduced? It confuses people more, every time. No surprise, almost all subscribers are bothered by unsolicited calls and SMS but only about 15% are registered in DND.

2. Transactional Vs Non transactional

TRAI has provided instructions on what are transactional messages, for example- SMS from banks, railway, airlines, educational institutes etc. According to TRAI, SMS from only these organizations will be treated as transactional and SMS from rest all will be treated as non-transactional (or promotional). The problem here is – ALL non-transactional SMS will be passed through NCPR and they won’t be delivered if the receiver number is registered in it. This essentially means all the solicited and important messages like those from- courier, auto service, corporate/community group messages, facebook/google alerts, yellow pages info, ticketing, event updates, news alerts, subscribed SMS and so on will NOT be delivered to you if your number is registered in NCPR.

3. 7 categories

To make things complicated, there will 7 categories of SMS (Mind it! The entire range of SMS communication is put in 7 categories) – 1- Banking/Insurance/Financial products/credit cards, 2- Real Estate, 3- Education, 4- Health, 5- Consumer goods and automobiles, 6- Communication/Broadcasting/Entertainment/IT, 7-Tourism and Leisure.

When you register in NCPR, you are by default ‘blocked’ for all non-transactional or promo SMS. However, you can ‘unblock’ yourself from any of the 7 categories mentioned above to receive the promo SMS. So if you want to receive say travel offers or travel related SMS, you may unblock category 7. But here is a big problem – You have the liberty to unblock a ‘category’ but you can’t control ‘who’ in that category. So for example, when you unblock category 7 for tourism, you are ‘legitimately’ opening doors to receive spam from every Tom-Dick &harry in tourism industry.

This is a complete fail. As a consumer, you can not specifically decide whose SMS you want (or don’t want). At the max, you can only decide category. Imagine this- You unblock to get deals from your preferred brand and you have to accept spam from all deal sites. You unblock to get health tips/updates from your chosen trainer/company and you have to receive spam from all those health service providers (Remember those Dr. Khatra Spam on haircare!).

It is also worth noting that, virtually, you may need to unblock from all categories to receive genuine, other useful messages as entire SMS communication is divided in 7 categories.

All it means, either you get all SMS (including pesky spam) or you don’t get anything.

Well, the problem doesn’t end here.

4. Numeric Sender Ids

The new regulations take out the ‘Alpha Sender’ system partially. As of now, you can see who is the sender (Ex. AA-SENDER) and delete the SMS there itself without needing to open/read further. As per new regulations, only transactional SMS (mind it again, only TRAI will specify who can send or what can be transactional SMS) will have Alpha sender (Ex- AA-MyBANK) and rest all will carry a numeric sender (Ex. AA-n11111, where n is the category you unblock and 11111 is the unique code assigned to the aggregator). Since India has major 6-7 bulk SMS aggregators, your inbox will be full of SMS with those (repeating) 6-7 numeric senders only. This means, one will have to open and read the whole SMS to understand who the sender is.

Is the new system reducing or increasing our pain?

5. Practical implementation w.r.t violations

The fine to be imposed on the aggregators is Rs. 25000 for the first offence and it goes upto Rs 250,000 for the sixth offence. After which the aggregator will be blacklisted from sending SMS.

The NCPR data will be updated and availed to telemarketers twice a week. As each of the aggregator sends billions of SMS per month, it looks impractical that they will not exceed 6 violations within one year.

The whole bulk SMS industry will be in turmoil if even 1 or 2 aggregators get banned.

6. 9 to 9 timing

All the non transactional SMS can be sent only during 9am to 9pm. This means, even if you are not registered with NCPR, you can not get important SMS like online transaction details, server down alerts etc in the night (9pm to 9am).

Importantly, what happens to opt-in services like way2sms, 160by2 in night?

7. 100 SMS limit

One can send maximum 100 SMS Per Day Per SIM (PDPS! Another term coined) under the cheap SMS packs. (It is still unclear if one can send more than 100 SMS with regular SMS pans, which are comparatively costlier).

What if a person buys 50 SIM in his name and spams to DND (sorry, NCPR!) numbers? He can still spam to 5000 people in a day, without incurring any fine.

An interesting observation from our research on smsBlocker- About 9 % spam SMS are sent via mobile numbers/SIM.

In one more attempt TRAI is trying to curb unsolicited SMS. This time the rules are quite stringent (and weird in many ways). With various loopholes, they might reduce spam to a certain extent but they will harm the very convenient and useful messaging system in a significant manner.

By the time I finish this post, I received an SMS from Pune Police-Traffic Department, which sends useful traffic updates via SMS. It reads-

“You are on NDNC & will no longer receive Traffic Alerts. If you wish to continue receiving alerts unsubscribe from NDNC registry by sending an SMS STOP 0 to 1909”

The point is clear- Be ready to get all or get nothing!

As a user or as an entrepreneur is the new policy going to help you or harm you? What’s your opinion?

[Image credit: Paull Young/Flickr. The title of this post is borrowed from a tweet by Ashish. Thanks to him.]

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