TRAI’s new SMS guidelines are a step in the wrong direction

Starting today, TRAI has started enforcing new guidelines with the intention of stopping the menace of “promotional” SMS, or SMS spam. No promotional SMS can be sent to any user who is on the DND list, and there are hefty fines for violations. Everyone is rejoicing the death of SMS spam, but this is a huge backward step for India – because along with SMS spam, TRAI has also outlawed the sending of automated SMS to users with their permission. That’s right: there is no way for a company X to send a status update to user Y even if the user Y desperately wants such updates, and even if he’s willing to give it in writing.

Don’t get me wrong. I hate unsolicited SMS messages as much as you do. But what TRAI has done is throw out the baby with the bathwater.

If I book a ticket on http://BookMyShow.com, I used to get an SMS confirmation. I could use that SMS at the theatre to pick up my ticket. Now? Gone. If a doctor answers an important patient question on http://bharathealth.com, the patient would get an SMS with the doctor’s answer (so that they get the answer immediately, and not have to wait until they log in to the site next time). This is a service that the patients love, and they start complaining as soon as the SMS service stops working. Now? It’s illegal. The fact that the receiver of the SMS actually wants it does not matter. SMS from http://Flipkart.com telling me where my book has reached – Gone. SMS updates that tell me whether my waitlisted Indian Railways ticket’s status has gotten confirmed – Gone.

Here are the sordid details as I understand them:

Automated SMS can be divided up into two categories: promotional/bulk SMS, and transactional SMS. Bulk SMS is where you’re sending the same SMS to a large number of recipients (e.g. a daily stock tip would be in this category). Transactional SMS is when you’re sending different sms updates/alerts/messages to different customers (e.g. an sms update from your bank immediately after a high value transaction on your credit card).

According to the new regulations, here is my understanding of the effects:

  • Users can sign up for a full DND (in which you don’t get any bulk SMS), or a partial DND, where you can opt in to receive bulk sms in certain categories. There are 7 such categories: 1: Banking/Insurance/Finance, 2: Real Estate, 3: Education, 4: Health, 5: Consumer Goods, Automobiles, 6: Communications/Broadcasting/Entertainment/IT, 7: Tourism & Leisure
  • Any user signin up for partial DND is pretty much asking the world of spammers (in that category) to start spamming him/her. Imagine – the partial DND list will be a public available list of people who have indicated an interest in a particular category and cannot complian if you spam them. A marketer’s (aka spammer’s) dream. As we say in Hindi, this is pretty much aa bail mujhe maar.
  • For DND users, transactional SMS can be sent only by: Banks, Financial Institutions, Insurance Companies, Credit Card Companies, Railways or Airline companies, and registered Educational Institutions. That’s it. No one else can send any SMS to a user signed up for DND.
  • Everybody else will essentially be treated as a telemarketer and be fined heavily in case of DND violations.

So, imagine you provide stock tips via SMS to users you have opted in to your service (what the heck, they’re even paying you for it). Under the new regulations:

  • No, you are not a Financial Institution just because you’re providing finance information. So you can’t send transactional
  • Under the new regulations, you cannot send your SMS to any user on the DND.
  • Your only hope is to convince that user to sign up for a partial-DND and opt in to receive messages for category #1: banking/insurance/finance. I would assume that most users who’ve signed up for DND will be wary of opening themselves up to telemarketing by going the partial DND route.

Follow a discussion of this question on Quora for more.

Also see Sagar Bedmutha’s post on pluggd.in on this topic.

25 thoughts on “TRAI’s new SMS guidelines are a step in the wrong direction”

  1. Completely agree with you, Navin.

    Yesterday, I realized a surprising twist in this. I had opted out of DND long time back as I want my server alerts to reach me all the time. (Receiving them is far more important than nuisance of spam.) According TRAI’s NCPR website, I am still on DND; and a call to my telco reveals that I am not.

    Even if there I am in a minority here, that still translates to millions of legitimate users. I don’t see any solution that addresses my problem.

    We are going to see a lots of nasty surprises due to this blanket ban.

    1. @Naweed, I really don’t think this is a matter of people in charge not understanding the issues. This was supposed to go into effect on 1st Feb, and it kept getting delayed. I’m sure that must be because of businesses (like JustDial) pushing back. So I would expect that the people in charge do understand the issues – but I think that something else, more murky, must be going on.

  2. so from what i understood. If I create a application for say sending sms to the user if their computer is On after a specific period. Then the user mobile number should be non-DND number?

  3. Lemme js ask a doubt. n frgv me if am being stupid. Is ths rule really dat effctv on telemarktng?? i mean all th telemarktng guys hv to do is gt more than one sim card. a bunch of sim cards n gt some offr wid 100 sms per day.. and now dat v cn get free sim cards frm evry company it shud b pretty easy. so isn’t this jst another dumb rule whch doesn’t much serve th cause but jst causes problems fr common ppl?? n one more thng. i seriously dnt think TRAI shud dcide the numbr f sms i send frm my own sim n mobile in the world’s largest democracy.

  4. Ths s th best idea th think tanks f TRAI cud come up wid?? Shame… Its wht happns whn power meets stupidity. Th common ppl r alwys at th recievng end f their nonsenses.

  5. The people at the top decision making positions are from 18th century. They are perhaps those people (like majority of 50 plus age group Indians) who use a mobile phone to give and recieve calls only. They do not know how to read or write an SMS. They think SMS is a nuisance. They do not know that it is cheapest and quickest method of communication. I have to send daily attendance report of my students to their parents. It was a welcome SMS for all parents but now I am unable to send the attendance of students. Students are happy. Hope somebody intervenes and things improve soon………..

  6. TRAI…. Am nt a telemarktr u idiots! Am jst a student! N stil am hvng 2 do wid 100 sms per day coz f ur stupid rule.. U hear that….?? Am nt a damn telemarketer…. TRAI…. U IDIOTS!!

  7. Yes, that is correct…u r idiots trai…and u change the full form of sms.before 27th september sms means short message service.. but after that sms means stop message service…..

  8. there is another problem trai could not address!
    if any spammer sends an sms through free sms websites its not limited to jst 100 , its actually unlimited they can send as much as they want!
    this curb in cutting the sms sent to jst 100 is pointless!!

    TRAI FOOLS WERE ARE UR BRAINS! DINT UR MOM GIVE U ONE???

  9. sir, pls change the rule many of them need sms…… they will pass the nes through msg only….pls change the rule sir…..now a days we cant pass any news immediately.oru urgent ku msg panna mudiayla sir. pls change the rule fast……..

  10. Hey guys.. I’ve sent a feedback on TRAI official website abt the sms regultns. Pla send more feedbacks. Coz only if v speak upto thm thr cud b some change. pls send thm feedbacks on ap@trai.gov.in

  11. Yes i also totally agreed with sunil. From last few years government policy are completely anti public or anti citizens looks like this government is run by some crooks of British RAJ. All the events shows from last few years. This present government is full of people who either do not understand the country man. They are for corporates and all the policy is for them. Look all the mobile service provider are looting people of this country on the name of ring tone activation Rs 30 or value added services the deduct amount when ever the feel and if we complain they will tell that you have activated this service and cannot be refunded. One midnight the deduct my Rs 30 when i was sleeping you can understand whats going on. So actually in reality they do by them self. Nothing has been done to stop this malpractice and such a bug scam happening form years. And the poor people of the country are geting looted by them every day and the amount is in thousand of crores yearly. But they bring the law which can pinch the common man. I thing this government is guided by external forces corporates and it is behieving like a dictator. Through them out once we get chance in next election. And get good people who are for the people of this country. Till such time comes we have to be forcibly ruled by these people including TRAI. All the corporate policy are anti public and they have got great freedom to loot indian people and even in new TRAI law i feel behind it just eye wast to show people they are doing for unwanted sms but actually helping telemarketers do thing leagely getting more sim cards.

  12. What the hell is this…. Sms is our only entertainment… 100 sms is not at all enough per day… Please TRAI Change ur decision…. Plzzzzzzz take a +ive decision….. plzzzzzzz dont blame us…… Come on guys. Join your hands to change this 100 SMS per day cap …… Plzzzzzzzz TRAI understand our feelings…

  13. It is sad that even legitimate sms to bulk receivers are stopped just because of this new guideline, calls sure can harass people but sms can be deleted, I wonder why people get so offended about a silly sms, bulk or otherwise. It seems strange that there needs to be guidelines applied to valid users who want to receive the sms, now untangling this seems to be have become a greater imbroglio, as legitimate users have stopped giving their legitimate service because of this guideline, as much as I hate spam sms, this is going too far.

  14. i plan to start a directory service like Justdial in my hometown, i am confused by the new TRAI guidelines issued in september though, if a customer seeks information through SMS then do i need to scrub the DND list every 3 days (as per the guidleines)and check if the customer is fully or partially registered for DND and accordingly send him the info by SMS? or the directory services will come under transactional SMS? kindly guide,,,

  15. plzzzzzzzz plzzzzzzzzzz make it more than 100 atleast make it 300…… not only business people even lovers get affected plzzzzzzzzz trai…… atleast “try” to understand they are so many lovers in india…….. and dat too their love story dependent on SMS……..

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