Spam SMS is not juts irritating, but a productivity killer!
In this day and age of hyper-consumerism, capitalism, and digital marketing, brand promotion is no longer reserved for billboards, magazines, and newspapers. Ever since the inception of the SMS, this mode of communication has become a widely used tool for companies to engage with their customers. While this isn’t a problem in and of itself, the underlying processes behind the act as well as their implications have now become a cause for concern.
According to a recent report, TrueCaller, the Swedish phone number identification service, identified 8.6 billion spam messages worldwide in 2019. This report further listed the 20 countries that have the highest number of spam messages per user in a month. While all countries in the top 3 were in the African continent followed by Brazil (which receives the most number of spam calls in the world) in fourth place, India wasn’t far behind, securing a spot in the top 10 as the eighth-most spam SMS afflicted nation.
On average, every smartphone user in India received 61 spam text messages in a month, which would roughly amount to at least 2 unwanted texts every day. For some perspective, Ethiopia’s average is 119 messages per user, the highest in the world. This, however, in no way negates the volume seen in India as users from about half of the countries in the top 20 list received less than 30 spam messages in a month, indicating that regulation is possible if enforced.
In another survey by LocalCircles in 2019, which was conducted on a sample of 12,000 Indian individuals, 96% reported receiving unwanted spam messages every day. Most respondents received between 4 and 7 spam texts, this category made up for 42% of the sample. The category with the next highest proportion of responses was 8 or more spam messages per day, with 36% falling within this range. It is worth considering that 8 “or more” is a fairly broad range, indicating that more options would have possibly reflected more mind-boggling data. Furthermore, only 4% of the sample reported not receiving daily spam. The rest of the 18% received between 1 and 3 messages per day.
With over 78% Indians claiming to receive more than 4 Spam SMS daily, Indians are being bombarded with unwanted Spam SMS which has a direct impact on users’ productivity and mental peace.
Banks, Insurance Firms, and Telecom Providers Among the Biggest Culprits
LocalCircles also investigated where these spam messages were primarily coming from.
Banks and insurance firms spammed users the most, making up for 38% of the total spam generated and sent by companies. The next most notorious sector was real estate, accounting for 34% of the spam users received. Lastly, telecom and e-commerce firms sent out 20% of the overall spam. Local businesses also sent unnecessary promotions to their clients.
TRAI Guidelines: Flimsy Regulation at Best
Since protection from spam is both a digital and a consumer right, it’s no surprise that there are legal prohibitions and guidelines in place to regulate how companies promote their deals and products in India.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has taken various different measures over the years to decrease the amount of spam circulating in the Indian SMS space.
Most have been conventional, like the TCCCPR, 2018 (Telecom Communications Customer Preference Regulations) in which the TRAI delineates a list of rules telemarketers must follow when engaging with customers via text. The most salient guideline within these regulations is the one that mandates companies to only send promotional messages to customers who have opted in for such updates. This is grossly violated as companies more often than not obtain consent through indirect means, without the knowledge of the customer. The TCCCPR also categorically mentions that opted-in customers have the liberty to opt-out of updates whenever they please, but this is also violated. Even after opting-in, the TRAI posits that telemarketers have to stop sending promotional content after 180 days. If you are like most Indians being targeted by spam, it’s very likely that this regulation also does nothing to stop telemarketers from bugging you.
Many other implementation based TRAI guidelines and amendments have fallen under in a similar manner.
TRAI’s DND: The “Smart” Spam Blocking App
In 2016, though, the TRAI launched an app called Do Not Disturb or DND with the purpose of helping users report spam and file complaints against such messages (and calls) in a more proactive manner.
At first, the app was only available to Android users but later became available on the Apple App Store, as well. At the same time, the first version was swapped for a newer one with performance upgrades, known as DND 2.0.
The installation of DND is fairly simple. Users need to install the app, register for the Do Not Disturb service, and then report any spam they get. Users can also file a complaint against spammers, after which the TRAI reviews it and takes action against the concerned offender. Additionally, the app protects users from spammers already under the TRAI’s directory.
While this initiative is very efficient on paper, too, like the previously mentioned conventional ones, feedback once again suggests otherwise. Users have reported receiving calls from spammers even after filing complaints, which is a setback that nullifies the entire point of the app.
However, the good news is that there are many other SMS blocking apps on the market which live up to their offer of a smart solution.
TrueCaller and its Ever-Evolving Trajectory of Mobile Safety
The most well-known of these apps is TrueCaller. Living up to its status as a pioneer in call and SMS management, the app constantly improves its features to offer users the best services possible. TrueCaller also conducts extensive mobile spam-related research and shares these insights with the world for free.
With 70% of its user-base in India, it is safe to not only assume that the general Indian public finds the app user-friendly and convenient, but also that it fulfils its promised duties efficiently. And with its constant push to provide better services, the app is only bound to become better in the future.
The app is available for iOS and Android, both. However, the free version has ads. The premium version comes with its own set of concerns. For example, a premium user can see who viewed their profile, automatically breaching the privacy of those who did so. It is also worth questioning whether TrueCaller’s crowd-sourced database is ethical or not.
Thus, there are better, more function specific options to consider.
Top 4 Spam Blockers for Android and iOS
Most phones today come up with inbuilt call and SMS blocking features, but they tend to be a hit or miss due to the wide range of phone brands available in the market. Whether you’re an Android or iPhone user, the following apps will be your safest (and most pocket-friendly) tickets to a spam-free phone.
1. Calls Blacklist – Call Blocker (Android)
Calls Blacklist is a versatile app available on the Google Play Store. With a rating of 4.4, the free version, although supported by ads, doesn’t skimp on features. Apart from blocking full numbers from the call log and contact book, users can whitelist or blacklist calls and texts based on keywords, area codes, and special characters. A user can also set the timings between which they’d like to block messages and calls and when they wouldn’t mind receiving them. In the pro version, which is a one time purchase of Rs. 29, users can personalize this schedule by days of the week.
2. Microsoft SMS Organizer (Android)
If you are looking beyond the manual marking and blocking of Spam SMS, then this is probably the best solution you must take note of. With over 1 million downloads on Google Play and 4.4 star rating, this Artificial Intelligence-powered Spam SMS blocking app is developed by an enthusiastic team at Microsoft. Out from Microsoft Garage, Microsoft Spam SMS organizer app helps you stay focus on SMSs that matter the most for you and deserve your attention. What makes it more interesting – it’s a free app to counter Spam SMS.
3. Key Messages (Android)
With a user-rating of 4.1 on Google Play Store, Key Messages is our second most recommended SMS blocking app for Android. The free version allows users to blacklist both, numbers and words. It also blocks MMS. The app further offers dual sim protection for those who use 2 numbers. The premium version automatically backs up text messages and instantly blocks and auto-deletes spam, among many other things. It can be purchased as a subscription of Rs. 30 per month. But unlike Calls Blacklist, this app-only offers protection from spam SMS.
4. SMS Filter Spam Junk Messages (iOS)
This is another app that only blocks spam SMS and MMS, thus, a call blocking feature is not available. However, it offers all text blocking features other apps do and is free of cost, with a user rating of 4.4 stars. The app developer also ensures complete data privacy, as mentioned in the product description.
5. VeroSMS (iOS)
VeroSMS, as the name suggests, is an SMS-only smart blocker. It has an unlimited keyword blacklist and whitelist. Users can also enable auto-blocking for messages containing links. Additionally, the app automatically reports spam to the TRAI for its Indian users, thus hitting two birds with one stone. The premium version offers Cloud syncing and automated filtering based on a crowd-sourced blacklist along with customized settings. VeroSMS premium is a one-time purchase of Rs. 249.
Telecom Regulatory Authority (TRAI) of India had issued some draft guidelines to control the SMS spam from various marketing firms last year. That had prompted many mobile operators to invest both time and money on the latest blockchain technology. Recently, the TRAI announced that it is ready with its blockchain-based DLT platform to overcome fraud and SMS spam.