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TRAI SMS Spam Guidelines Could Create Problems For Cloud Telephony Providers

Cloud telephony company Exotel points us, via a blog post, towards unintended collateral damage of a TRAI regulation on SMS Spam, something that we hadn’t noticed when we had first covered the regulation. (Hat tip: Tarun Dua)

The 13th amendment to TRAI’s SMS Spam regulations, issued in August last year, said that if a company sends a promotional SMS to a DND customer, and the customer files a complaint, all telephony resources of the client, including the number mentioned in the SMS, will be terminated. At the time that the regulation has been announced, we had welcomed the change, since it allowed customers of telemarketers to also be held responsible for the violation of TRAI guidelines, but warned that customers who might have otherwise been misled by telemarketers into believing that methods such as sending promotional messages on a transactional pipe, are fine.

The TRAI had held these organizations responsible, saying that “These organisations, being the principal are equally responsible for the non-compliance of the regulations and directions issued by the Authority to address the problem of UCC. It is the responsibility of these organisations (the principals) to ensure that the telemarketer engaged by them (the agent) for promoting their business either directly or through an intermediary follows all rules and regulations and if such organisation (the agent) fails in this responsibility, they (the principals) are to be held responsible for the acts and omissions of their agents.”

This regulation has an interesting repercussion on shared telephony resources, like the one that Exotel provides: if an Exotel customer uses a shared number in a promotional message which then leads to a ban, then Exotel’s shared number can be banned as well, and with it, all clients who are using that number. The company has asked its users to ensure two things: “For all public communication, please use only those phone numbers that your company owns”, and “Never publish Exophone numbers on your website or on any marketing material. Instead, buy your own number, set up a call forwarding to the Exophone and use the service”.

Exotel provides a business phone system on the cloud, allowing its customers to manage calls & SMS very easily, and set up applications like IVR, Call Recording, Reporting, Missed Call & other services.

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MediaNama’s Take

The other problem is proving that the number included belongs to a marketer. What if there’s a typo, and as a result of that, someone elses number gets blocked?

In hindsight, the TRAI should amend the regulation to filter bulk messages containing these numbers, rather than disconnecting the numbers. Telecom operators or payment gateway providers could be given these numbers as a list, to ensure that messages containing them aren’t sent. That way, the numbers will continue to remain active, and can continue to be used, but not used for commercial communication. Note that we don’t know if such a solution is technically feasible, but it appears to us to be the right approach.

Written By

Founder @ MediaNama. TED Fellow. Asia21 Fellow @ Asia Society. Co-founder SaveTheInternet.in and Internet Freedom Foundation. Advisory board @ CyberBRICS

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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