How is TRAI proposing to help callers identify spammers?
What is the new feature the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India is planning to introduce? What is its function? What are the concerns?
The story so far:
On November 29, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) floated a consultation paper seeking comments about the potential introduction of a Calling Name Presentation (CNAP) feature. The feature would provide an individual with information about the calling party (similar to ‘Truecaller’ and ‘Bharat Caller ID & Anti-Spam’). The idea is to ensure that telephone subscribers are able to make an informed choice about incoming calls and curb harassment by unknown or spam callers. Comments for the consultation paper are invited until December 27.
What is its purpose?
Existing technologies present the number of the calling entity on the potential receiver’s handset. Since subscribers are not given the name and identity of the caller, they sometimes choose not to answer them believing it could be unsolicited commercial communication from unregistered telemarketers. This could lead to even genuine calls being unanswered.
Additionally, there have been rising concerns about robocalls (calls made automatically using IT-enabled systems with a pre-recorded voice), spam calls and fraudulent calls. Truecaller’s ‘2021 Global Spam and Scam Report’ revealed that the average number of spam calls per user each month in India, stood at 16.8 while total spam volumes received by its users were in excess of 3.8 billion calls in October alone. Smartphone users, at present, rely on in-built features or third-party apps to mark and tackle spam calls. However, as per the regulator, their reliance on crowd-sourced data may not be reliable.
Are there concerns about privacy?
Isha Suri, a Senior Researcher at the Centre for Internet and Society (CIS), opines that, notwithstanding the utility, it is not particularly clear how the CNAP mechanism would balance the caller’s right to remain anonymous, an essential component of the right to privacy. To put it into perspective, an individual may opt to remain anonymous for multiple reasons, for example, whistle-blowers or employees being harassed. She observed that because customers accord consent only to their operators when completing the prerequisite KYC formalities for a connection, it would be ideal that a framework for the feature is developed along those lines rather than asking a centralised database operated by a third party to host and share data (one of the proposed models). “You have to see it in parallel with The Digital Personal Data Protection Bill (2022) which has a clause on deemed consent lacking adequate safeguards including sharing of data with third parties,” Ms. Suri said.
Would the provisions be enough?
Previously, telemarketers were required to be registered as promotional numbers, making it easier to identify and block them. However, CEO and Founder of LocalCircles Sachin Taparia told The Hindu, that marketers have started deploying people who are not necessarily part of the entity’s set-up, but rather “at-home workers” to whom work is being outsourced. They are given SIM cards not registered to a particular company, but rather to the individual themselves. Mr. Taparia says, “Just by showing the identity would not mean much, once the system (to identity and mark spammers) gets built and hundreds of people are able to utilise the system, only then would the system have a meaningful impact.” Ms. Suri adds that the government must also invest in digital literacy, skilling citizens to navigate and use the tech better, ensuring they do not share their data indiscriminately and are informed about dangers such as financial frauds and spoofing.
On November 29, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) floated a consultation paper seeking comments about the potential introduction of a Calling Name Presentation (CNAP) feature.
Truecaller’s ‘2021 Global Spam and Scam Report’ revealed that the average number of spam calls per user each month in India, stood at 16.8 while total spam volumes received by its users were in excess of 3.8 billion calls in October alone.
The government must invest in digital literacy, skilling citizens to navigate and use tech better, ensuring that they do not share their data indiscriminately.