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Can telcos team up to offer Truecaller-like service? TRAI’s idea has takers, but concerns remain

Telecom regulatory body has proposed a mechanism to help users identify spam callers. Experts welcome the move but express concerns about its implementation with limited resources.

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New Delhi: Days after the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) released a consultation paper proposing that telecom operators build a technology that helps identify display names of callers to help consumers identify spam or fraudulent calls, experts have welcomed the idea but remain skeptical about its implementation.

The paper, titled ‘Íntroduction of Calling Name Presentation (CNAP) in Telecommunication Networks’, was released Tuesday. Referring to native smartphone tools and third-party apps that already offer caller ID services — such as Truecaller and Bharat Caller ID & Anti-spam — the paper notes that these aren’t always reliable as they use crowd-sourced data.

For the stakeholders, the last date to submit comments on the paper is 27 December. Counter-comments can be submitted by 10 January 2023, after which consultations will take place with the relevant stakeholders. 

Although experts ThePrint spoke to welcomed the regulatory body’s proposal, they pointed out that collaborating with all telecom operators to maintain a directory of authentic user information with limited resources would be challenging. 

Prashant Singhal, a telecom expert from Ernst and Young (EY), a consultancy group, told ThePrint: “I think this is a welcome move as spam calls from telemarketers are a problem, we have witnessed almost 250% increase in this aspect… The government is the most secure source in terms of privacy and building a strong KYC (Know Your Customer) infrastructure as well. It might take time and resources to create a comprehensive structure but that is for the good and should be encouraged.”

The latest development comes against the backdrop of the draft telecom bill that was released by Ashwini Vaishnaw, Minister of Railways, Communications and Electronics & Information Technology, in September. He had emphasised the need to eliminate cyber and telecom fraud in India through  “light-touch” regulation that enhances transparency.

Also Read: Modi govt again extends feedback deadline for telecom bill, list of concerns grow

‘Correctly identifying the calling party’

The TRAI paper says that to implement the service, the service providers would need to have access to a database that contains the correct name identity information of each telephone subscriber.

According to the paper, India has grown to become the world’s second largest telecommunications market, with 114.55 crore wireless subscribers and 2.65 crore wireline subscribers as of 30 September.

But there has been a corresponding growth of unsolicited commercial communications (UCC) from “unregistered telemarketers” that needs to be addressed immediately.

“The telephone consumers require that they should be able to correctly identify the calling party. The Calling Line Identification Presentation (CLIP) service does not adequately meet this requirement as this service presents only the telephone number of the calling party. Apparently, the said requirement may be met through a name presentation facility where the name identity of the calling party is displayed on the called party’s telephone,” the paper reads.

According to TRAI, consumers have raised concerns about how, in the absence of a caller ID facility, “they prefer not to attend calls from unknown telephone numbers as most of such calls are unsolicited commercial communications (UCCs) from unregistered telemarketers. As a result, even genuine telephone calls go unanswered.”

There are also concerns around robocalls (recorded calls), spam and fraudulent calls, wherein consumers get duped financially via telephone numbers. Most of these have now started bypassing the do-not-disturb (DND) feature that consumers use to avoid them, the paper says.

“Through fraudulent calls, certain individuals attempt to obtain details of bank account/ one time password (OTP) with an aim to defraud consumers. Telephone consumers have also expressed their concern in respect of CLI spoofing,” it adds.

Spoofing is when a user deliberately “falsifies” caller IDs to disguise their identity in order to trick people into answering calls. Most spammers make sure they get a spoof number from a company or a government agency in order to defraud parties.

Experts have said there’s a pressing need to build and maintain an authentic directory as is done by most countries.

Abhishek Malhotra, managing partner at TMT Law Practice — which specialises in technology, media and telecommunications law — said, “The suggestion (the TRAI proposal) would require the telecom service providers to maintain a genuine directory, yes, but this may not be the most difficult thing to implement if the Customer Acquisition Forms which are sought from the subscriber, at the very first instance, are accurately maintained, updated and available. Looking west, it may be feasible to adopt the US version where the terminating service provider performs a lookup on the database maintained by the originating service provider or a trusted third party.”

Also Read: Telcos asked to halt 5G near airports over safety concerns, but experts say ‘don’t worry’

‘Eliminating spammers permanently’

In May this year, when the Union government was contemplating this move, Truecaller welcomed the idea but said that collaboration between telecom companies would take a long time.

“Truecaller welcomes all attempts aimed at helping in the mission to make communications safer and more secure. If the service described were to be developed, the assessment is that its implementation would take many years and require a successful collaboration with all major telecom operators. Based on the information available at present, we do not see that this would be a competitive service comparable to the full range of services and functionality that Truecaller offers to our more than 310 million monthly active users. With our technology and data, Truecaller solves many more issues than a basic number identification service,” the company’s statement read.

This was also reiterated by telecom experts, who believe that the regulator should go one step ahead and work on eliminating spammers permanently. EY’s Singhal said there should be a larger conversation about tightening DND services and stopping spam calls altogether.

(Edited by Anumeha Saxena)

Also Read: Grievance redressal board, Rs 500 cr fine, key features of new personal data protection draft bill


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