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I called up a Hike spammer

hike

Update: We checked, and Hike no longer offers free talktime. They do offer free SMS’ to users, judging by what is mentioned on the app.

Earlier today: A translated transcript of a conversation (with emphasis) I had with a person who sent me a spam message inviting me to Hike, last month:

Spammer: Hello
Nikhil: Hello. I got a message on WhatsApp from you for Hike. Who are you and how did you get my number?
Spammer: I’m *****. There’s Google Plus. I got it from there.
Nikhil: You got my number from Google Plus?
Spammer: Yes
Nikhil: No, but why are you sending me a Hike message?
Spammer: I didn’t know. There’s Hike Messenger.
Nikhil: Yes.
Spammer: It says download Hike messenger, and chat using it, so I sent that.
Nikhil: But why are you sending it to me? If you’re downloading it, you’re using it. Why are you sending it to me?
Spammer: It has something where if you add even one customer, I get Rs 20 balance per customer.
Nikhil: Who gives you Rs 20? Hike?
Spammer: Yes. Meaning, it has this for everyone, if you add any customer, so I sent it to everyone.

***
hike-spam
Nikhil: So you took numbers from Google+?
Spammer: (You) made an acccount on Google+, yes?
Nikhil: Yes.
Spammer: So that had the number.
Nikhil: Whose number? My number.
Spammer: Everyone’s number. Whoever I sent friend request, that’s how I got it.
(Note: I haven’t got this person as a friend on Google Plus)
Nikhil: I don’t know you. Where did you get my number from?
Spammer: You’re on Google+. I sent you a friend request. See if I followed you, then in my mobile everyone’s contact number got added.

Nikhil: So you won’t be able to message me now because I’m going to file a complaint (block and report) on WhatsApp against you. Because of that, your number might be blocked on WhatsApp.

Spammer: Sorry sir, I won’t send it again.
Nikhil: no, you shouldn’t be doing this, so I’ll complain.
Spammer: I get Rs 20 balance, so I thought that I’ll message for free. I didn’t just send it to you. I sent it to everyone.
Nikhil: You don’t even know anyone and you’re messaging them, troubling them. That’s wrong.
Spammer: Sorry, I won’t do this again.
Nikhil: Ok.

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Note Hike itself doesn’t spam – unless it uses its own messaging gateway to send user originated messages. What it does is provide incentive to its users to invite others, which invariably leads to spam. More on that here.

But is it spam?

Spam is unsolicited commercial communication. The Wikipedia definition: “Electronic spamming is the use of electronic messaging systems to send unsolicited messages (spam), especially advertising, indiscriminately.”

As you can tell from the conversation (of which we have an audio recording), the communication was unsolicited, indiscriminate and promotional in nature.

Airtel explains that Hike invites aren’t spam

Of course, Bharti Airtel, whose promoter group has set up Hike, believes that Hike invites aren’t spam. My complaints against Hike invites have been not addressed by Airtel. An Airtel customer care executive went to great lengths to explain to me how invitation messages from Hike users are not spam, and even how Hike invites are sent. They’ve never done this for any other spam complaint that I’ve filed (and I file them regularly).

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This also lays bare the issue of privacy for Google+ services: that my number got added to the phone book (possibly Android) of someone who followed me on Google+. It also indicates how terrible I am at figuring out privacy settings. I know, my fault for making my number public. If spammers spam me, it’s my fault.

My number is on the DNI (Do Not Invite) list in Hike (which is something I had recommended to Hike), but this doesn’t work for Whatsapp. You can apply for Hike DNI here.

P.s.: I had shared this audio with Kavin Bharti Mittal, founder and CEO of Hike, but there was no response

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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