India Against Spam - A Solution on Android

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While there is much development in the realm of Information Technology Law in India, it is often the case (as is with much legislation) that there is a gap between the theoretical framework provided by the legislation and the actual adoption / execution of the framework. An example of that is the The Telecom Commercial Communications Customer Preference Regulations, 2010 which seeks to stomp out the scourge of SMS/telephone spam, at least theoretically. While providing an adequate legal framework for addressing the issue of unsolicited commercial communications ("spam"), in practice the Regulations tend to be mostly unused with most end-users either because of ignorance of its provisions or because they find it to be too tedious / inefficient to utilize.

The Regulations provide for what is commonly known as "Do Not Disturb" which is a scheme wherein all telemarketers are required to register themselves with the "National Telemarketer Register" maintained by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). As per the scheme no telecom subscriber may make any commercial communication whatsoever without being so registered.

To compliment this register, the regulations provide that every access provider has to maintain a "Customer Preference Registration Facility" to record the preference of their customers as to whether or not they wish to receive commercial communications (spam). The access providers' registry in turns feed this data into the "National Customer Preference Register" maintained by the TRAI, the benefit to the end consumer being that you can check first-hand from TRAI whether or not your access provider has registered you for "Do Not Disturb." The onus is on the telemarketers thereby to ensure that no commercial communication whatsoever is sent to any telecom subscriber who has opted out of receiving such communications.

Of course, all of this would be fruitless without a complaint mechanism to take action against telemarketers (registered or unregistered) who continue to send spam despite the recipient being on "Do Not Disturb." The mechanism is provided for in Regulation 19, of which a simplified summary is given below after stripping off the legalese:

  1. Upon making a complaint, your access provider has to immediately provide a unique complaint number. In practice this usually is sent to you within a minute or two of making the complaint.
  2. Your access provider has to verify within 72 hours that you have registered your preference at least 7 days prior and verify the correctness of your complaint.
  3. Within the same 72 hours (if the complaint has merit) they have to forward the complaint to the originating access provider (i.e. the access provider of the telemarketer) as well as the National Telemarketer Register.
  4. (If the complaint is incorrect you have to be informed accordingly.)
  5. The originating access provider has to investigate the nature of such call / SMS within 72 hours of receiving the complaint from your access provider, and if the complaint is found to have merit, the originating access provider has to:
    • Issue a notice to the alleged telemarketer with the details.
    • Intimate the result of the investigation and action taken to your access provider.
    • In case of a registered telemarketer, it has to deposit the amount deducted from the security deposit of the telemarketer in the authority’s account.
    • In case of an unregistered telemarketer, it has to issue a notice to the telemarketer that stop sending spam.  Upon a second incident being reported (by anyone), that access provider is to discontinue his service (i.e. cancel his phone account).
    • Update the action taken in the National telemarketer register.
  6. Thereafter your access provider is supposed to inform you within 24 hours of the result of the investigation and action taken. In practice this often takes weeks, ignoring the mandate of the regulations. In my experience, in case they take any action, they send you an e-mail, otherwise they send a SMS.

The complaint mechanism under the Regulations specify that the complaint is to be made by sending a SMS with the following template to 1909:

“COMP TEL NO XXXXXXXXXX, dd/mm/yy, Time hh:mm” 

For Example:
World Class Residential In The Heart of G Noida Close to Pari Chowk Starts From 25L Qutarly 2lac for 36 months All Inclusive Cal,+4418373xxxx, 29/03/14

It is important to note that the Regulations define "commercial communications" in a narrower sense than perhaps what the average person would construe as being "spam." The applicability of this entire scheme hinges on the definition of "unsolicited commercial communications" borne out of a joint reading of Regulations 2 (i) and 2 (ac):

2 (i) commercial communication” means any message, voice or SMS, made through telecommunications service, which is transmitted for the purpose of informing about, or soliciting or promoting any commercial transaction in relation to goods, investment or services;

2 (ac) unsolicited commercial communication” means any commercial communication which a subscriber opts not to receive but does not
include , ----
(i) any transactional message; or
(ii) any message transmitted on the directions of central Government or State Government or agencies authorized by it; 

While the legal framework of the Regulations are by and large adequate in my opinion, the mechanism provided for customer complaints certainly brings about a practical question - who has time for typing out a complaint for every spam SMS received? While spam SMSes are certainly an annoyance, the solution proposed by the Regulations would be a worse alternative as in effect in would convert an annoyance of a couple of seconds to an annoyance lasting about a half a minute that it would take to type out the complaint in terms of the template above.

This is where one of my favourite Android apps steps in and fills the gap - India Against Spam. Developed by "Deepak J" this apps serves to turn this customer complaint process from an arduous task to a one-click (ok, two clicks!) process of making the complaint. Essentially the app automates the creation of the complaint by allowing you to directly select the spam SMS from your message list (i.e. Click No. 1) and creating a SMS complaint in terms of the template above marked to be sent to 1909, which you can then send effortlessly (i.e. Click No. 2). The app is a fantastic example of private ingenuity completing the last mile gap left by the government and turns the tedium of making a complaint into 2 second task.

I have been using the app for about a year or more now (with about 3,500+ complaints so far!), and it works very well in my experience. The app is quick and snappy, and allows you to make complaints seamlessly. Moreover, the developer is constantly improving the app and issuing relevant updates. If you have never signed up for "Do Not Disturb" you can even use this app for that (while earlier most providers took up to 30 days to activate the feature for you, now they commit to 7 days). Once you make a complaint, you can use this app to even check the status of a complaint, though this is a feature I would suspect is not used often as the app doesn't have a way to easily access the complaint numbers. One of the features I highly recommend is the setting "Delete SMS/Call automatically after reporting" which is unselected by default, which saves you to hassle of having to delete the spam message after making the complaint. (Update (12/05/2014: This no longer works with Android 4.2.2 Kit-Kat due to new restrictions on the need to earmark a default messaging app) What is also very useful is that app by default automatically hides SMSes / Calls from people who are in your address book, thereby reducing the clutter and making it easier to recognize spam SMSes and calls as well as reducing the possibility of accidentally making incorrect complaints.

Being a Free app (Ad free) there are certainly no qualms about the price! It is also very low in terms of memory usage. Perhaps the only con of this app is that it is currently only available on Android, and in my opinion the developer would be well advised to develop the app for other platforms as well. Added to my wish list would be if the app could tie in with messaging apps (stock and otherwise) so as to enable users to report spam directly from the notification bar.

Rating: 5 / 5 Stars (Highly Recommended!).