SMS Opt-in vs NDNC in India

We have been having some issues over the past few months with people subscribing to MyToday services because of what I believe is a misinterpretation of the National Do-Not-Call (NDNC) rules by a mobile operator.

At the heart of the issue is whether an explicit SMS Opt-in done by a subscriber overrides an NDNC registration, or should it be the other way round. Logic would dictate that even if I have registered for NDNC, I should still be able to opt-in to any SMS service that I desire. Else, I am going to have to unregister myself from NDNC to opt-in to an SMS service — opening myself to every spammer in the country, and thus creating the very regime of spam that NDNC was supposed to have avoided in the first place.

Well, this logic that Opt-in should override NDNC doesn’t seem to hold as far as Airtel is concerned in the case of MyToday. Airtel has blocked the longcodes we use for people to subscribe (9845398453 and 9845298452) because they received some complaints from people. [We did try and address the issue as to why people would complain, but that didn’t seem to help.] What we are being told is that the 3.7 million MyToday database needs to be scrubbed to remove all NDNC-registered users (about 10% of the base). This just doesn’t make sense to me.

The alternatives Airtel has given us: either get in writing from the 370K subscribers that they want to get MyToday SMS channels, or get TRAI to issue a clarification on the NDNC rules they have issued. I don’t know which is more impossible! I have tried speaking to TRAI officials. All they say is that this is an issue between the operator (Airtel) and NetCore. So much for that.

The net result: existing MyToday subscribers cannot opt-out (because their numbers are blocked), and new ones cannot opt-in. I don’t know if we have been singled out for our pioneering services in India, but all I can say is that this ridiculous situation needs to be resolved. We are caught between Airtel and TRAI, and it has been like that for the past couple months.

The irony is that a service like ours which has showcased innovation and new monetisation opportunities to the world (I presented this at both the GSM World Congress in Barcelona in Feb and the Web 2.0 Summit a couple weeks ago) is not being allowed to function properly in our own home country!

Here is a presentation I had sent to Airtel and TRAI outlining the issues involved and giving recommendations on the way forward.

NDNC vs Opt-in: A Perspective

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own.

As I have said before, India has the opportunity to lead the world in the creation and monetisation of mobile data services. This is important if the telcos are to counter falling voice revenues. But if we have short-sightedness like this, we are not going to get anywhere.

283 thoughts on “SMS Opt-in vs NDNC in India

  1. Pingback: Airtel Blocks MyToday’s longcodes – Confusion over NDNC/Opt-in |Technology and Business Startups in India

  2. This is scary – I guess its more about resistance to the softening of the garden’s walls, rather than a real concern for NDNC registrants. Spamming or not is more a philosophy one adopts rather than a mere question of adherence to the letter of the law – and the number of ad-calls one’s started getting on the phone speak for themselves 🙂

    I hope this is resolved amicably and as it should be – with users not being robbed of their right to choose services they’d want to use merely because they have expressed a desire to not be pained by unsolicited spam.

    On a related note, its amazing how many users give a thumbs up to ad-supported services rather than paid ones. Perhaps thats the threat…

  3. Pingback: Airtel Blocks MyToday Again; This Time, It’s The Do Not Call Registry | MediaNama

  4. In my B School, I had a Sales & Distribution Mgmnt faculty who said ‘The real definition of sales is to create a sales agent out of your prospect such that he will start promoting your product’. If there is a community feeling within the MyToday subscribers, there are high chances the community will fight such battles with the service providers. Like there were millions of people who wanted to create a world record out of downloading Firefox 3 in a day. It was a community effort.

  5. I guess Airtel is just arm twisting.

    By their logic, if I am in the NDNC, then I should not be able to even get an sms from my Bank whom I’ve told to send me an sms alert whenever there is any transaction.

    Weird logic I must say.

  6. just to add more, the logic has been rightly put across by Rajesh – the only two options one has are:
    – either register yourself to NDNC and then never receive any messages from services(even if i want some good utility service)
    OR
    – open yourself to all kind of spam SMS if you unregister with NDNC

    what is to be done if i don’t want spam and have registered with NDNC but i do want services on sms that i like and choose to receive??

    ridiculous to say the very least – and then why is it just airtel then? why not across all the operators? is there a different law for others?

  7. Dear Rajesh,
    Airtel also behaves like government. Difficult to guess if it is an armtwisting strategy or simple ignorance or redtape.
    You consider a couple of choices
    a) Formally complain to TRAI
    b) File a case in a High Court and obtain a stay against Airtel
    c) Use alternate long codes for Airtel subscribers

  8. Rajesh – I think you have a valid point. What would be a good mechanism to audit and monitor opt-in subscriptions? Otherwise, an owner of a list of phone numbers can claim he got opt-in requests, or refuse to acknowledge unsubscribe requests. On the internet, this continues to be a major issue. Just like DNC has an independent existence, it seems that opt-ins ought to have some independent verifiability in order to work.

    One thought could be to include explicit opt-out messages in every [10]th message sent to subscribers (of course, assuming that satisfies TRAI)

    Alok

  9. Alok,

    On your point about Audit: all SMSes come in to a longcode which is configured on an operator switch. So, they have a record of every SMS. This is in the eventuality that they have doubt on the service provider’s veracity. (I have in the past discussed the concept of a “VAS Operator Licence” and that could be another way.)

    In our case, the reply to the START explicitly tells people how do to a STOP. In addition, once every month, we carry a footer ad on each of our channels on how to STOP. We also do a periodic purge of mobile numbers to whom messages could not be delivered for 21 days in a row based on the SMS Delivery reports.

    Rajesh.

  10. “either get in writing from the 370K subscribers that they want to get MyToday SMS channels, or get TRAI to issue a clarification on the NDNC rules they have issued.”

    From the little that I understand the quickest way out of this is to have a online registration form online if it is a subscription based service and in the disclaimer mention the client agrees on receiving content from you company.

    I think that should keep airtel happy and shouldn’t be that hard to achieve also as the user only has to log onto the net and fill the form with basic details.

    Maybe I’m wrong but seems simple enough to more forward.

    Best Regards,

    Satyam Bachani.

  11. Hi Rajesh,
    Appreciate your crisp & to the point presentation. Not too much for them to argue upon apart from TAKING TIME!

    I wish you all the best for the fastest way out!

    Ok, i have an idea – What if i/third-party starts an org (make it recognizable with TRAI) & all (operators, vendors etc) ping into it on regular basis to confirm the NDNC – Will that help in longterm?
    Something like EIR system with GSMA. Is this a gap that can be filled? Your suggestion on this will be definitely valuable to me. Thanks. Haresh.chugani@gmail.com

  12. Pingback: WTF of the day : Airtel blocks MyToday’s shortcode because of the Do No Call Registry | Gyaan Sutra

  13. This is very unfortunate. I guess this is where we need more legislation. The rules are ambiguous, and so everybody does as they deem fit. A proper legal framework is required – to ensure the data NDNC is shared with everybody (even with spammers? Does it make their task easier?), and a tribunal where the claims can be contested. Stopping a services without proof is not acceptable. Would Airtel agree if Delhi brings down their towers that are built on illegal commercial territory?

    This is perhaps one of the things that TRAI needs to regulate on — VAS players have to be given an equal legal footing. I wonder when the consultation paper on VAS will be acted upon, but that should address all these issues.

  14. Airtel’s logic here is so dumb; It’s pretty obvious that they are trying to arm twist.
    Airtel is the last one worried about spamming people. They spam to the extent that they auto dial their consumers and play recorded advertising messages.

    When you said the situation has been like this, I’m a bit surprised. Given the positioning of your business and hard to obtain justice situation in India, I would have thought that you are better prepared to handle these kind of situations.
    I’m outraged at what Airtel did to Mytoday, but I’m not surprised. Obviously what you are pioneering in is not in the best interest of Airtel. So, they would play whatever tactics they can.
    If we had good functional legal system, it would have been so simple to get a ruling in your favor because it’s so obvious. But we don’t.

    What I meant by better preparedness is may be having an alternate mechanism. I don’t know the details but why should you get locked into a single operator? If you had another number with a different operator, it would have been much easier to manage these kind of risks.

  15. Temp quick fix, since its only Airtel who seems to have a problem, why not just remove Airtel subscribers who have registered on NDNC from your Mytoday subscriber list.

    This should keep them happy and solve the excuse they are giving for blocking your service.

  16. Pingback: » Everything you wanted to know about the do not call directory (DNC) in India

  17. Pingback: #NetNeutrality | Vinu's Online Cloud

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