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XBlockr: A Mobile App To Block Unwanted Callers; A Suggestion

(with inputs from Pulkit Sharma)

The complete and utter failure of India’s “Do Not Call” registry has created a nice little opportunity for Aquilonis, a Bangalore based tech firm, to market its XBLOCKR application. XBLOCKR allows its users to discreetly drop, divert or duck unwanted calls. Compatible with over 250 handsets and across platforms such as Symbian, BlackBerry and Windows, the application even simulates an error message to avoid offending the caller. It’s available on Microsoft Marketplace for Windows Phone, Nokia’s OVI and Airtel App Central, and priced at Rs. 349.

The company claims to have 25000 users, and received 5000 downloads in the first week itself. If they are all paid users, then that works out to Rs. 8.725 million in revenue.

But I’m not sure if this addresses the problem entirely: telemarketers use many numbers for making the calls. When was the last time you received two marketing calls from the same number? So while this may help some execs avoid calls from pesky journalists trying to break stories (nudge, nudge), among other use cases, I doubt it will work on a larger scale.

A Suggestion

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How about adding a crowdsourcing model to this? A year or so ago, a company (I forget which) had showcased at Mobile Monday Delhi, the idea of crowdsourcing telemarketer names and numbers: users can submit telemarketer numbers and names, and update their mobile phone number list on an on-going basis. The idea was shot down for being impractical, but with an application that already allows you to monitor your calls, one could incorporate a ‘Flag as telemarketer’ option to the list, which could be synced to the web. Users can then sync back a telemarketer list. This will help identify telemarketers to callers. I’m not sure if this will work, but it depends on the app achieving scale, and a group of friends not gaming the system by flagging someone in their group as a telemarketer. If it works, this will differentiate XBLOCKR from other similar applications.

Bottom Line

With or without the application, the DNC has failed. The number of spam messages and calls have increased significantly over the last couple of months. Airtel, which I subscribe to, routinely passes the buck to other telecom operators (which may well be the case), but it doesn’t put an end to the problem if no one is getting penalized, or even if the penalty isn’t working. Two and a half years on the DND list, I don’t even register complaints anymore, because they just aren’t effective, and there is no feedback. Most of the spam message I receive, are from Tata Teleservices numbers (I can tell from the alphanumeric prefix to short codes), and I wish they would do something about this. All in all, I think it is about time telecom operators starting taking ownership of this issue for their customers, and pro-actively banning telemarketers. Do the interconnect agreements enforced by the government allow that?

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