Privacy of telecom users: Trai to use blockchain as weapon against spams

After failing to check the menace of pesky calls for years, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) is planning to use blockchain technology to control unsolicited communication. Blockchain, popularly described as a digital ledger that is programmed to record virtually everything of value, will be deployed for the first time by any country to check unwanted calls. 

With the deployment of blockchain technology, spammers can be swiftly tracked through data matching even when they use normal 10-digit phone numbers. 

Some 30 billion commercial messages are sent out every month, of which many may be unsolicited, making telemarketing a brisk business opportunity. So far, it has been tough to track spammers as they have been using the 10-digit mobile number and not the special numbering series allotted for telemarketing. Blockchain-enabled digital record will however show the entire communication between the various entities.

The blockchain-based rules will record all communication between subscribers and entities, capturing customer consent for information and authorised telemarketing agencies. The draft regulations propose that explicit consent should be taken from a consumer regarding unsolicited commercial communication and the consent should be reviewed periodically. There will be various methods to take the consent and Trai is currently deliberating on them. 

“Blockchain will ensure two things — non- repudiation and confidentiality. Only those authorised will be able to access details of a subscriber and only when they need to deliver service... Trai will become the first organisation to implement this kind of a regulation,” Trai Chairman RS Sharma said on Tuesday. The chairman accepted that the earlier rules to check pesky communications were not of much help. Over the recent past, fraudulent calls regarding financial dealings have been an area of concern. There have been cases of non-registered users sending communication to a large number of mobile users that their money will be doubled in six months or recommending purchase of specific company shares. “We will use a mix of regulation and technology to check this,” Sharma added. 
The Telecom Commercial Communications Customer Preference Regulations 2018 draft will be open for public comment till June 11, after which Trai will come out with the final rules by July. Sharma said the authority has formulated the draft regulations which would leverage technology and offer a more agile process to deal with the dynamic nature of this problem.

Trai Secretary SK Gupta said many telemarketing firms get registered with telecom companies just to obtain subscriber details. “The system will give access to authorised agencies at the time they need to deliver service and details of those subscribers who have agreed to receive the message,” he said. The draft proposes to check misuse of repeated unsolicited calls being made even to those subscribers who have given consent.  “A subscriber may have given consent for a service but that consent is liable to be misused. Under the regulation, the subscriber will be able to revoke consent whenever they desire through a Trai app and other mechanism,” Gupta added.

India is the first country to use blockchain to check pesky calls. The benefit of the technology is that all the information can be recorded and more options can be given to customers regarding commercial communications. The telemarketers will not have access to database of telecom customers and they can only reach out to those, who have opted to receive the communication. Any spammer who uses a normal 10-digit number to communicate with people can be tracked immediately after a few people report to Trai as data can be matched.

  • 230 million subscribers have registered on the “Do Not Disturb” registry
  • The DND registry came into effect in 2010 
  • Now blockchain will be adopted as RegTech (regulatory technology)  
  • Information can be secured cryptographically and made available only if needed 
  • Nobody (like spammers) can deny their actions or tamper with data once recorded on blockchain
  • It is a co-regulation where telecom operators can establish and arrange a framework
  • The solution will be demonstrated to everyone before deployment 
  • Trai likely to come out with final rules and solution by July-August

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