TRAI, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has issued a new directive to the telecom operations in India asking them to adopt blockchain technology to fight spam calls and messages. According to a report by Live Mint, the reason for suggesting blockchain was because this will ensure that the database is “centrally accessible” but at the same time only available for telemarketers who have registered to have access to the database. This will limit that access of phone databases to registered organizations, and/or companies. TRAI also directed the telecom providers to “explicitly record” the consent that users have provided to receive such communication including spam messages and calls.
These rules were disclosed as part of the Telecom Commercial Communication Customer Preference Regulations 2018 that were disclosed on July 19. For the uninitiated, Blockchain is a distributed ledger which is like a collection of records and everyone who has access to the records, holds a copy of the database. Though, all members who have access to the records need to agree if anyone wants to make any change to the database. According to the report, even though the blockchain protects the information with the help of cryptographic keys and signatures to control who has access to what particular thing in a shared collection of records, “only registered telemarketers will be able to discharge certain functions”.
This is not the first time where TRAI has talked about such as system as it issued a consultation paper about inviting comments on how to create a system to register telemarketers along with an improved complaint redressal system. The report pointed out that the reason for this system is how telecom customers receive spam calls and messages despite registering for DND service, the lack of information regarding the implication of sharing their contact numbers, and absence of a mechanism that would record consent of the user.
Some of the major pointers that were revealed include the requirement of a company to confirm their identity through a header that is registered under their name if they want to communicate with “interested users”, “access providers” could be fined with a penalty of up to Rs 50 lakh per month if they fail to stop unwanted commercial communication. These rules also state that “access providers” need to ensure that they record or revoke the consent of their subscribers.
The former head of the Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Committee of the Internet and Mobile Association of India issued a statement, “ This is a step in the right direction by TRAI. Blockchain can effectively create a signature or a hash of an asset and instead of transmitting that entire digital asset, in this case, the phone number, you can only put the hash on that database which can be accessed by the registered telemarketer.” He went on to add, “Blockchain can secure this database but in this case security is also needed at the point of origin of the data and before it is stored on the ledger i.e. ensuring that there is no leakage at the end of the telecom service provider generating the number” as part of the report.
However, Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) raised a concern that there was no analysis done on the cost on investment for such a system and the benefit that it will bring to the industry especially at such a time where most telecom providers are “facing financial stress.” Rajan Mathers, the Director-General for COAI stated, “We remain concerned about whether the regulation addresses the issues of unsolicited calls origination from unregistered telemarketers.”