Apple faces deactivation of iPhones in India due to TRAI’s new rules

Apple and TRAI have been at loggerheads over allowing the government-backed DND app on iPhones. While the regulator believes the app will help consumers block pesky messages, Apple has declined the app citing users’ privacy.

| Updated on: Aug 20 2022, 00:03 IST
Will Apple allow TRAI’s DND app on its iOS platform to avoid deactivation of its iPhones in India?
Will Apple allow TRAI’s DND app on its iOS platform to avoid deactivation of its iPhones in India? (REUTERS)
Will Apple allow TRAI’s DND app on its iOS platform to avoid deactivation of its iPhones in India?
Will Apple allow TRAI’s DND app on its iOS platform to avoid deactivation of its iPhones in India? (REUTERS)

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India's (TRAI) new rules to curb pesky messages may lead to deactivation of millions of iPhones in India.

The regulator earlier this week announced the 'Telecom commercial communications customer preference regulations, 2018' under which it has proposed to "derecognise" devices that bar installation of TRAI's DND app, a platform that allows users to report and block pesky messages.

The application has been available on Android for quite some time but Apple hasn't allowed on its iPhones, citing users' privacy.

"Every Access Provider shall ensure that preferences recorded or modified by the subscriber are given effect to in near real time and in such a manner that no delivery of commercial communication is made or blocked in contravention to the subscribers' preference after twenty-four hours or such time as the Authority may prescribe," said TRAI in its report.

"Provided that where such devices do not permit functioning of such Apps as prescribed in regulations 6(2)(e) and regulations 23(2)(d), Access Providers shall, on the order or direction of the Authority, derecognize such devices from their telecom networks," it added.

The regulator in section 6(2)(e) points out that every access provider has to set up "Customer Preference Registration Facility (CPRF)" and provide a "mobile app developed in this regard either by the Authority or by any other person or entity and approved by the Authority."

The telecom regulator, however, has given six months' time to device manufacturers to allow such applications.

"Every Access Provider shall ensure that all devices registered on its network shall support all permissions required for the functioning of such Apps as prescribed in the Regulations 7(2) and Regulations 24(2); Provided that such device manufacturer shall have six months' time to implement such functionality, if not already available, with intimation to the Authority," the regulatory said.

In simpler words, Apple has six months' time to tweak its iOS to allow TRAI's DND application or else the network providers will block radio (connectivity access) to the iPhones in the country.

Apple declined to comment on the new TRAI rules.

Apple vs TRAI
Apple and TRAI have been at loggerheads over the issue of allowing a DND app on iPhones for over two years. While the regulator has been asking the company to allow the application, Apple has declined to do so citing users' privacy.

Back in November 2017, a Reuters report suggested that the two parties had come to an agreement over the issue and that the American smartphone company will help the government in building an anti-spam mobile application for the iOS platform.

Apple, however, had then admitted that the iOS platform did not allow some of the government requests such as allowing call logs data on the DND app.

Impact on users
If Apple and TRAI fail to come to an agreement, the move will impact millions of iPhone users in India.

The Indian Cellular Association (ICA) in response to the draft policy had criticised the regulator for asking service providers to block access to devices on failure to incorporate DND apps.

"Even though the ICA appreciates the intentions of TRAI in this regard, it is clear from the TRAI Act that the powers conferred to the Hon'ble Authority under the said Act are limited to regulating telecom service providers or licencees. There has been no precedent in the past wherein the TRAI has attempted to regulate device manufacturers, simply because the Authority realises that its powers in this regard are limited by the statute," said the industry body pointing out that the regulator has no jurisdiction over device manufacturers.

The ICA also highlighted that the move could have "unintended consequences of placing millions of customers in harm's way. This because the customers may simply not want to have such apps on their devices, or they may be on a platform that does not want the functionality in the manner in which TRAI is describing it."

The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) , an industry body representing top telecom players, in its response had said that the telecom service providers have control over the network and that they cannot take responsibility of elements outside their network. It also pointed out that the service providers don't have control on the applications (mostly OTTs) which a consumer is using on his/her handset.

Updated iOS and DND 2.0
Apple is building a new iteration of its operating system, the iOS 12. The latest update comes with a "spam reporting" feature. The implementation of the feature, however, is quite different from Android's, as it will require users to enable the feature via the app extension.

The extension description reads:

"To report SMS messages and calls, the user must enable an Unwanted Communication extension in the Settings app. They can only enable one Unwanted Communication extension at a time.

In order to report calls, the user swipes left on an item in the Recents list and selects Report. For SMS messages, they press the Report Messages button when it appears in the Messages transcript. Users can also select messages by long-pressing a message and selecting additional messages, then selecting Report Messages.

When the user reports an SMS message or call, the system launches your Unwanted Communication extension. Your extension gathers additional information from the user, before deciding whether to report or block the number, as shown in Figure 1."

It is yet to be seen whether the TRAI will accept the extension as the replacement for the DND app.

The regulator in the meanwhile has updated its DND application. The latest version (v2.0) is said to be built from ground up and comes with "intelligent feature". The updated app comes with "an intelligent spam detection engine (for SMS only) to assist the subscriber in reporting" and "crowdsourcing of data about offending messages and calls to speed up detection of unregistered telemarketers".

"TRAI has already explored, with encouraging results, the use of machine learning technologies to classify messages in its DND 2.0 App. These regulations would enable development of newer tools based on Artificial Intelligence or other technologies for an easier subscriber experience in setting preferences, governing consent and reporting violations. As a result of the platform approach espoused by TRAI, where functions are unbundled and access to information controlled based on permissions, all such solutions would henceforth be possible for third parties to develop. And they would be able to demonstrate the efficacy and security of their solutions in the controlled environment of the Regulatory Sandbox, before products are released for wider use," said the body in a release.

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First Published Date: 21 Jul, 18:26 IST