The story so far: On November 29, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) floated a consultation paper seeking comments about the potential introduction of Calling Name Presentation (CNAP). The feature would provide the called individual with information about the calling party (similar to ‘Truecaller’ and ‘Bharat Caller ID & Anti-Spam’). The idea is to ensure that telephone subscribers are able to make an informed choice about incoming calls and curb harassment by unknown or spam callers.
Comments to the consultation paper are invited until December 27.
What is its purpose?
Existing technologies present the number of the calling entity on the potential receiver’s handset. Since subscribers are not given the name and identity of the caller, they may choose not to answer them believing it could be unsolicited commercial communication from unregistered telemarketers. This could lead to even genuine calls being unanswered.
Additionally, there have been rising concerns about robocalls (calls made automatically using IT-enabled systems with a pre-recorded voice), spam calls and fraudulent calls.
Community research platform LocalCircles’ survey corroborated this, with 64% of respondents stating they receive at least 3 spam calls each day, with 95% of respondents receiving them despite registering on Do-not-Call Directory (DND). In fact, Truecaller’s ‘2021 Global Spam and Scam Report’ revealed that the average number of spam calls per user each month (in India) stood at 16.8 while total spam volumes received by its users were in excess of 3.8 billion in calls in October alone.
Smartphone users, at present, rely on in-built features (such as ‘silence unknown numbers’ on Apple phones) or third-party apps to mark and tackle spam calls. However, as per the regulator, crowd-sourced data may not be reliable.
What are the proposed models?
The regulator has proposed four models for facilitating the CNAP mechanism.
The first model involves each telecom service provider (TSP) establishing and operating a CNAP database of its subscribers. Here, the caller’s TSP would have to extract the relevant data from its own database. The latter could either be the name identity of the calling entity or an indicator stating that the presentation of the data is restricted or unavailable. This would then be sent to the potential receiver’s TSP to be presented to the final user.
TRAI observes that operators would also have to upgrade their ‘intermediate network nodes’, used to facilitate, transmit and redistribute data to other nodes and eventually to the end user.
In the second model, the operator of the calling entity shares its CNAP database with the receiver’s operator. The difference here is that the calling operator would permit the receiver’s operator to access its database for the caller’s CNAP data. Operators could also use their respective mobile number portability databases.
The third model envisages a third party operating a centralised database. The onus rests on the receiver’s operator to delve into the centralised database to retrieve and present the caller’s data. This model would require that TSPs inform the database whileenrolling new subscribers or deactivating existing ones.
This model is similar to a plan envisaged by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) in 2018, involving the setting up of a a Digital Intelligence Unit at the central level and Telecom Analytics for Fraud Management and Consumer Protection (TAFCOP) for every licensed operating area. These were to implement a Calling Name Identification System (CLINS) to store the name of each telephone subscriber (as per their subscription enrolment forms) against their numbers.
And finally, the fourth model would require that each TSP maintain a CNAP database and retain a copy of a synchronised central database operated by a third party. It works this way: the call is facilitated as per the routine procedure, and since the receiver’s operator has access to both the centralised and their own database, the lookup is, therefore, internal.
Will there be challenges to latency?
The regulator has said thatlatency in setting up the call must be ensured and CNAP must be inter-operable.
TRAI noted that there is a likelihood of a slight increase in the time taken to set up a call with respect to certain models. The first and the fourth model which do not require coordination with outside entities are expected to be quicker in comparison to the third model. For the second model, setting up a call would require less time should the caller and receiver be using the same operator, slightly more if the operators are different.
The responsiveness might also suffer when moving from a faster wireless network (4G or 5G) to a comparatively slower one (2G or 3G), or vice-versa.
Is TRAI also proposing to introduce it in feature phones?
Yes, DoT has requested TRAI to explore the feasibility and network readiness of providing CNAP to all telephone subscribers, including feature-phone users.
In this regard, CEO and Founder of LocalCircles Sachin Taparia told The Hindu that since the (general caller identification) process requires seamless flow of information, from marking ‘spam’ to it reflecting in the database, feature phones would struggle with constantly updating information. This also allows spammers to execute more calls because of the slowness.
Are there concerns about privacy?
Isha Suri, a Senior Researcher at the Centre for Internet and Society (CIS), opines that, notwithstanding the utility, it is not particularly clear how the (CNAP) mechanism would balance the caller’s right to remain anonymous, an essential component of the right to privacy. To put it into perspective, an individual may opt to remain anonymous for multiple reasons, for example, whistle-blowers or employees being harassed.
She observed that because customers accord consent only to their operators by completing the prerequisite KYC formalities for a connection, it would be ideal that a framework is developed along those lines rather than asking a centralised database operated by a third party to host and share data.
“You have to see it in parallel with The Digital Personal Data Protection Bill (2022) which has a clause on deemed consent lacking adequate safeguards including sharing of data with third parties,” Ms Suri said.
Would the provisions be enough?
Experts have pointed out that marketers have figured out newer ways to circumvent the existing framework. Previously, telemarketers were required to be registered as promotional numbers, making it easier to identify and block them. However, Mr. Taparia says, marketers have started deploying people not necessarily part of the entity’s set-up, but rather “at-home workers” to whom work may also be outsourced. They are given SIM cards not registered to a particular company, but rather to the individual themselves. Thus, when they call up potential customers, it pops up as a personal call — also bypassing the norms for promotional calling.
Mr. Taparia says, “Just by showing the identity would not mean much, once the system (to identity and mark spammers) gets built and hundreds of people are able to utilise the system, only then would the system have a meaningful impact.”
The idea here is to build an interface that is user-friendly and in turn, an effective mechanism. Active participation from the subscribers would ensure that spammers are rightly identified and are unable to make further calls.
Ms. Suri adds that the government must also invest in digital literacy, skilling citizens tonavigate and use the tech better, ensuring they do not share their data indiscriminately and are informed about dangers such as financial frauds and spoofing.