“Hello sir. Would you be interested in buying this 8-bedroom apartment coming up?”

“Sir. What if you die? You should have life insurance?”

“We can offer you unsecured loans or even unsolicited loans at cheaper rates.”

“Ma’am. I am calling from your bank. Can you share the OTP for your account upgrade?”

“Do you want a friend who can keep you happy?”

“For relaxing massage at your home, call for friendly spa. Male or female preference.”

Most of us have received unsolicited messages or calls to these effect. They range from frisky to pesky to risky or even risqué. And yet something is far more worrying.

It’s a cool sounding tag — “DND”. Simply to say “Do Not Disturb”. Not sure if it meant to do that though.

In a chaotic and loud space that most of us have grown up with, in India. Loud volume. Sound all around. Noise pollution that all of us generally don’t even realise until it’s deafening (pun meant). A consumer market where internet users willingly share their life moments and comments freely on various social media platforms. And yet many have entrusted the telecom regulator to keep their mobile privacy of not wanting to be disturbed. Yet there is absolute silence from the regulator who is supposed to take care of this DND enactment. That’s the big worry.

And in a market, where everyone expects their privacy to be maintained and consumer protection as a phrase is liberally used around, especially by the regulators. Yet no one has that DND working. Wonder even those who regulate this space are saying the same — do not disturb them with these silly complaints!

Regulator for this sector — Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) — has the concept of a DND registry under its Unsolicited Commercial Communications (UCC) guidelines. Sadly, it’s been sub-optimal for so long that consumers seem to have forgotten such a concept actually exists and could work. If only it is regulated. (By the way, the regulator has provision to penalise pesky callers in the range of ₹1,000 to ₹10,000 per violation.)

Menace and more

A recent survey conducted by LocalCircles, as reported by the media, mentioned that nearly 64% Indians received three or more spam calls on their phones everyday. The survey was conducted across 377 districts between March 10 and May 10 this year comprising 37,000 respondents.

According to the caller ID app TrueCaller, India is one of the most spammed countries in the world as citizens receive nearly 17 spam calls per user per month on average.

Not surprising at all. One must have been under the deeper stones and crevices of the sea bed to have missed these signs. Spam messages, fraudulent push marketing, unsolicited sales pitches of realty projects, financial services offerings including from even known reputed brands just seem to flood the market. Yet consumers don’t have recourse to any solution from these pesky messages or calls. Imagine all the spam calls that ask for OTPs and passwords. If only the regulator can action a fail proof DND, much of those consumer issues can be solved.

Data dynamics and dread

Earlier in the year 2020, media has reported that a cybersecurity startup had found a file containing over 9 crore phone numbers registered with the National Do Not Call Registry (NDNS) kept on sale on the Darknet. The data had been purportedly placed on sale on the dark web for a price of less than $10. As a statistic, while we pride that India has over 118 crore mobile connections, it is concerning to note about lax database security.

If a regulator can’t keep its data safe, it is playing with trust and security of its consumers! For a nation that has lot of technical prowess and innovation credits, it’s inability to handle privacy for telecom consumers, especially those who ask for it, is nothing short of shame and failure. TRAI had said that they have introduced blockchain-based technology to curb the issue. Ironic that it’s not even able to block those pesky messages or calls!

Hopefully someday soon, TRAI, probably with the collaboration of the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In), will wake up to the urgent need to make the DND concept effectively work. Trust in regulatory framework has to be built before it rusts!

Looks like we have taken the Gen Z understanding of the word ‘DND’ to be the SMS lingo to denote the Hindi word ‘dand’ (punishment)... and that’s what is currently eked out to the consumers. Can TRAI try and get us out of this DND conundrum?

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