II MA English
“ I would have slapped the person on the face, had something like this been said to me directly”, fumes Sayujya Sankar, 20, who got an unsolicited SMS on her mobile phone- a suggestive invitation for a late night chat. The rude SMS was just one among the thousands of unsolicited ones that pester mobile phone users across the country, beyond boundaries of age, sex, and network provider.
Unsolicited SMSes often appear as advertisements for a plethora of products and services, including matrimonials, chat rooms, employment opportunities, admissions, insurance and banking, travels, shopping offers, and almost everything under the sun. These uninvited annoyances assume larger and graver proportions when they get tinted with criminal intents and fraud. In other words, it’s encroachment upon private space, and amounts to throwing customer privacy up for grabs.
Subscribers are frequently bombarded with chat invitations and friend requests also, and find-a-friend schemes are common. A week-long tiff over a ‘misfired’ SMS amounted into violence and ended in the murder of a youth in Aluva, Kerala. An SMS meant for her boyfriend was allegedly sent to a random number by the network provider under their ‘find-friendship’ scheme, blames the girl, whose boyfriend murdered the person who had received the message and had started disturbing her.
Monu Rajan, a postgraduate student in Hyderabad, confirms that chat invitations are common. He receives them “once in a while”, but just ignores them. “They are annoying”, he says. But he frowns when he talks about the adult jokes and suggestive messages. “ They even sent messages asking if I would like to subscribe to an ‘adult jokes scheme’”, says the BSNL subscriber. The customer services departments fail miserably in stopping these unsolicited calls and SMSes, complain users of BSNL, Airtel, Vodafone, Tata, and other firms.
Fraud also plays big in the scheme of things. Mobile lotteries, branching out of the infamous online lotteries, almost always ask for customer account numbers, and other confidential information after ‘informing’ that the subscriber’s number has won a substantial amount in a ‘lucky draw’. Innocent victims still fall prey to these dirty schemes, and stand to lose.
A look into what is in it for the advertising firms reveals some unique advantages. It helps in cheap marketing and is effective, as most people read whatever message they get on their personal phone. There is a wider coverage to mobile marketing, as compared to television and internet. The best part is that the real identity of the sender could be easily masked. There is no way the receiver could be sure of the sender’s identity, as these bulk- SMSes are usually sent from websites which are more than obliging to take up the proxy ‘sending’ job, at relatively cheap rates. One of them, www.smsfreedom.com, even flashes on its home page: “Our gateways have features like different sender ID, scheduled SMS, least cost routing, and 2-way SMS”!
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), had taken measures in this regard, but poor promotion and ineffectiveness of the National Do Not Call Registry (NDNCR) makes it a choice best left out. In spite of a much-hyped launch last year, NDNCR, the primary objective of which is “to curb the Unsolicited Commercial Communication (UCC)”, has failed to meet requirements, as 80% of the Indian subscribers are still not registered. Those who did, complain of inefficient working and below-par satisfaction. Messaging by political parties does not come under commercial SMSes, and hence accounts for millions of unsolicited SMSes, leaving TRAI helpless on that front. Stricter rules, better promotion, and effective functioning alone can help stopping the circulation of unsolicited SMSes, which is nothing less than ‘trespassing’ into ‘private property’ of India’s millions of mobile phone users.