Fight against spam and robocall scams intensifies in India

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Indian phone users it may not take too long to wonder who this “unknown” caller is. The regulatory changes under consideration could help them avoid an annoying telemarketer and an annoying call from a bank’s customer service manager trying to sell insurance.

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In an attempt to fight the spam call plague, India’s telecommunications regulator is in the process of drafting a consultation paper supporting a mechanism that would allow phones to display the caller’s name even if the number is not stored on the person’s phone. This name will be derived from the Know Your Customer (KYC) data that carriers must collect from users before providing them with a SIM card.

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“We are preparing a consultation paper,” Syed Tausif Abbas, adviser to the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of India, told WIRED. “It will take maybe one month, at least. Once the paper is [ready]it will be publicly available for comments from interested parties.”

Over the past year, India has seen a sharp rise in spam calls. According to a report by the Swedish company Truecaller, which considers India its largest market, this country was fourth largest spam out of 20 surveyed in 2021, up from ninth place a year earlier. According to the company, between January and October 2021, more than 200 million calls were received from a single spammer. While most of the calls were spam, more than 1% were fraudulent, with the callers pretending to be from a bank or fintech start-up and asking customers for their personal details. Over the past few years, Indians have had to deal with a flood of scam calls that made some lose money.

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While Truecaller and similar applications can help identify the caller in some cases, the information may not be accurate as it is crowdsourced and not based on official data. And while India’s attempt to crack down on spam and scams on a larger scale could help citizens better know who is calling them, some policy experts say the effort will be futile and raise privacy questions.

Pranesh Prakash, policy director for the Center for Internet and Society, says knowing who a number is connected to and being able to dodge spam or scam calls in some way would be helpful. “It can be useful for people to know that they are talking to so-and-so, or the mobile phone is registered to such-and-such a name, [especially] if they were the subject of a scam or something like that. So from that point of view, it can be really useful,” says Prakash. But he does not fully agree with this idea.

He is most concerned about this proposal – sharing KYC data with the government in the absence of a comprehensive data protection law in India. “There is anemic IT security [Information Technology] A law that acts like a data protection provision, so what the government does with the data you entrust to it is not really regulated by law,” says Prakash. However, the data privacy bill expected will soon be discussed in the Indian Parliament, and if passed, it could provide an additional layer of protection for user data.

But there are other concerns as well. Shalini Sivasubramanian, a senior fellow at the Center for Policy Research, questions the overall usefulness of the plan: if the intention is simply to let people know who is calling, it doesn’t solve the underlying problem of spam. “What purpose does it serve if it’s just to notify the caller that this person is calling,” she says. “It doesn’t completely solve the problem of spam calls.”

Sivasubramanian points to The Truth in Caller ID Law, which President Barack Obama signed into law in 2010 as an approach that India could build upon. This law prohibits ID forgery and prosecutes call robots, and has an authentication function to automatically identify call robots. “The US has call authentication protocols that filter out robocalls and [then] they are being prosecuted for this,” says Sivasubramanyan. “Here [in India], by just displaying the caller id, yes I will recognize the number, but would that be less frustrating just because I see the name associated with that spam call? I do not think so”.


Credit: www.wired.com /

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