Are you fed up of receiving unwanted sms-text messages on your mobile-phone? Have you received any within the last 24 hours? If your answer is yes, your problem is far deeper than you’d like to acknowledge.
For instance, do you realize with each passing day, the menace of unwanted SMSes bombarding your mobile-phone is only set to grow? Soon, the growth may turn exponential? Unlike spam-messages in email, that can be seen cluttering your inbox only when you log into your mailbox, a spam-sms pesters you directly, at any odd hour of the day or night, demanding your immediate attention. You may soon find yourself persistently interrupted through your day and life. This is harassment, apparently non-physical and non-verbal, but in reality, it is physical, mental, and even social. So stop being mute about it.
Private and Confidential
It may seem obvious that you need not give your mobile number away to random people and organizations. However, this step alone is not sufficient. I have an Airtel mobile number since 1999, and so far I have never published my number anywhere. In these ten years, I’ve made it a point to never publish my number on any of my business cards. When I do give my number to someone, I immediately impress upon them, whether verbally or in writing, not to share my number with anyone else without my prior consent.
Do Not Answer
My second rule is even stricter. I tend not to answer calls from numbers I do not recognize, or do not expect. So, if you want me to answer your call, you have to first sms me, letting me know who’s calling and why, and request me to consider answering my phone.
The nature of my work, as well as my life, is such that I tend to keep my phone in a switched-off or its silent-mode for hours at a stretch. This is actually a good habit to inculcate. Once people know you are not a reliable mule always available at the other end of their mobile-phone, they’ll use their discretion in calling you, and switch to alternatives, such as e-mail, or even an urgent sms. I make it a point of being prompt in my responses to valid emails. This works as a positive assertion, as people soon learnt to email rather than just call me.
No Escape From SMS-Spam
Even then, the best laid plans of mice and men-with-mobiles oft go awry. Each time I’ve had to book an airline ticket for myself, I’ve been asked to provide my mobile number so the airline may inform me of delays and schedules. Yeah! Right. Within minutes of them punching my number into their systems, I’ve consistently received sms-es promising me hotel rooms, properties to buy, and even vacations. Similarly, when I fill up forms for making investments, or at banks, where providing my mobile number is mandatory (why?) I am subsequently besieged by spam-smses. Even certain government-forms demand I share my mobile-number.
Do Not Disturb
By now, you may wonder how come I do not mention Unwanted Commercial Calls (UCC). Oh! I solved that problem long ago. You see, desperate to unplug myself from this vortex, I immediately registered myself with the National Do Not Disturb (N-DND Registry). You may do so too, by following the directions here: http://ndncregistry.gov.in/ndncregistry/index.jsp
Within 45 days of registering, all unwanted commercial calls actually ceased. Once in a rare while, say once in three to four months, I may receive the one stray call. I promptly fire off a written complaint via email to email@example.com. They formally acknowledge the email, provide me with a number, and respond within a few days on the action they may have taken to resolve the call. I’ve also subscribed to Airtel’s ‘Call Management’ service. This is available from their website for a small fee per month: I pay Rs 15 per month. I have created a ‘black-list’ of telephone and mobile-numbers, and that pretty much keeps UCC at bay.
SMS is a pesky problem. For each junk-sms I receive, I promptly fire up my email software, and write a complaint to firstname.lastname@example.org. Their customer-service then has to respond to such a written complaint, and they follow it up with a voice-call as well. This is where the rub lies. Since the past several months, I’ve pointedly asked Airtel the following questions, which they either duck or evade:
01. Exactly what steps have they taken to stop that sms-sender from sending messages? I don’t need assurance, I need proof.
02. For the harassment caused and for the trouble I take to sit down and file a written complaint, and to respond to their follow-up calls, what compensation will be offered to me?
03. Given that I have clearly and unequivocally indicated that I do not wished to be disturbed by unwanted smses, and registered with the TRAI for this, why is it that Airtel first waits for me to file a complaint, and then responds by stating that a warning has been issued to the spammer? Is that all? Why can’t Airtel prevent spam-smses, by using clever software-filters that catch spam and chuck them out?
04. Does Airtel stand to gain money from having such smses sent on their networks? Or, does Airtel stand to gain money in receiving compensations from spammers for their offenses? The TRAI directive may offer a clue:
“To discourage the telemarketers who make calls to the numbers registered in Do Not Call List, a provision has been made whereby Rs.500/ – shall be payable by the telemarketer to the service provider for every first unsolicited commercial communication (UCC) and Rs.1000/- shall be payable for subsequent UCC. There is a provision for disconnection of the telemarketer telephone number / telecom resource if the UCC is sent even after levy of Rs.500/- & Rs.1000/- tariff. In case of non-compliance to the Telecom Unsolicited Commercial Communications Regulations, 2007, the Service Provider is also liable to pay an amount by way of financial disincentive, not exceeding Rs.5000/- for first non-compliance of the regulation and in case of second or subsequent such non-compliance, an amount not exceeding Rs.20,000/- for each such non-compliance.”
Source: http://ndncregistry.gov.in/ndncregistry/index.jsp on date: 28 July 2009.
As you can see, the TRAI directive is lopsided. The end-user suffers, while the Service-Provider may stand to profit from penalizing spammers when a complaint is lodged by the end-user. It’s obvious the end-user must be compensated for each offense. This compensation may be automatically offered, whether or not the end-user lodges a complaint.
In the meantime, I feel getting Airtel to respond to me for every spam-sms against which I file a complaint, will eventually yield results. I would therefore strongly encourage fellow-users to file written complaints at email@example.com.
Throughout, I mention my experiences with Airtel. You may find similar services with your service provider. So please check with them, as I would not know.
Finally, we’ve all forgotten the small little detail of spamming. The real person or organization behind the spamming tend to share their own mobile or landline numbers as well. Yummy! Starting this week, I am going to publish all these numbers on a special blog-post, and trust automated internet-spiders will harvest these numbers and contact-details. The rest, I leave to your imagination.
In the meantime, if you’ve got tips and suggestions to share, please do so here.