SPAM infiltrating Whatsapp as 51% of the users surveyed say they get 4 or more spam messages each day
- ● 68% mobile subscribers on an average receive 4 or more promotional or spam SMSs every day with every subscriber surveyed getting spam
- ● 95% Whatsapp subscribers surveyed got spam while every mobile subscriber surveyed got it
- ● Financial services, Real Estate services and Pathology services top sectors sending spam SMS as well spam Whatsapp indicating the same offenders are now spamming using both channels
- ● 77% mobile subscribers surveyed want TRAI to work with telcos and enable mark spam feature with each SMS
October 12, 2022, New Delhi: Despite clear norms laid by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on unsolicited communication, consumers are still facing unwanted calls, SMS (Short Messaging Services) and Whatsapp messages from vendors, telemarketers, banks, insurance brokers, car dealers, pathology labs, property and other investment agents among others.
According to a survey by LocalCircles in 2021, 95% of mobile subscribers were continuing to get spam and promotional SMSes. The LocalCircles’ survey in 2021 also revealed that out of over 35,000 respondents from across the country, 73% were getting 4 or more unwanted SMS on a daily basis. Despite being registered on the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) “Do Not Disturb (DND)” list, 74% of citizens at the time said they still get unwanted SMS. In the same survey, 26% of citizens said that at least a quarter of the unwanted SMS came from mobile service providers, banking, insurance, real estate, local services and earning money offers were the primary drivers for spam SMS.
Since, citizens from across the country continued to report the menace of spam SMS and over the last 12 months, lots of citizen complaints were received regarding spam Whatsapp messages now, LocalCircles decided to conduct another national survey to understand the menace of spam SMS and Whatsapp messages. The survey which received over 57,000 responses from citizens located in 373 districts of India had 62% respondents as men while 38% respondents were women. 45% respondents were from tier 1, 32% from tier 2 and 23% respondents were from tier 3, 4 and rural districts.
32% citizens receive an average of 8 or more unwanted messages
There have been media reports over the last few months that the Department of Telecommunication (DOT) has decided to levy fines ranging from INR 1,000 per violation for 0-10 breaches, INR 5,000 each for 10-50 violations, and INR 10,000 each for more than 50 violations by registered telemarketers. But so far the telecom authority has not issued any notification. The first survey question attempted to understand the extent of the spam or promotional SMS received by mobile subscribers. When asked, “on an average, how many promotional or spam SMS are you receiving on your phone every day”, not even one among the 11,094 respondents denied not being harassed by them every day. In fact, 32% admitted receiving 1-3 such messages, 36% have been receiving 4-7 messages and 32% an average of 8 or more unwanted messages. Which shows that 68% citizens on an average receive 4 or more promotional or spam SMSs every day which is a big number if totaled for every month or year.
Unsolicited SMS, not to be confused with communication from government or any other authorized source, is a misuse of citizens’ personal data. Many people face issues of unwanted messages and calls made to them by fraudsters, spammers, telemarketers, despite registering on TRAI’s Do Not Call Registry (NDNS). In February 2020, around 93 million phone numbers registered with the TRAI’s “Do Not Call Registry (NDNS)” were kept on sale on the Darknet, according to reports.
As the LocalCircles survey reveals, from 98% of those surveyed confirming of receiving spam or promotional SMS in 2021, the situation has worsened this year as no one appears to be left out by spammers, despite efforts by TRAI to enable consumers to report spam messages.
51% of the citizens are receiving 4 or more promotional or spam messages on their Whatsapp
One of the top complaints received this year from citizens by LocalCircles has been that of promotional and spam Whatsapp messages being received daily. To estimate the magnitude of this menace, LocalCircles asked citizens, “on average, how many promotional or spam Whatsapp messages are you receiving on your Whastapp every day? In response, only 5% out of 11,326 shared that they are not being troubled on this platform. Of the remaining, 44% are receiving 1-3 messages on Whatsapp, 29% have been receiving 4-7 messages on a daily basis and 22% an average of 8 or more messages. In effect, 51% of the citizens are receiving 4 or more promotional or spam messages on their Whatsapp despite the provision to report spam or block numbers. The latest survey shows that spam messages on Whatsapp platform are fast catching up with SMS. As against 68% receiving 4 or more spam SMS every day, on Whatsapp 51% are facing the same problem.
Whatsapp Business was rolled out few years ago and in 2021, Whatsapp mandated that users of the platform must receive messages from Whatsapp Business (based on their usage of Whatsapp and parent platform Facebook) for them to continue using the platform. While users resisted this initially and started using alternate platforms like Signal and Telegram, over time most gave up and accepted the revised terms.
It is not a surprise that spam on Whatsapp has drastically risen over the last 12 months and now 95% of the Whatsapp users surveyed are saying that they get spam or promotional messages regularly.
SMS and Whatsapp spam sender profile looks very similar as top categories of spam for both SMS and Whatsapp in 2022 is reported in areas of financial services, real estate and pathology services
Focusing on the nature of the unwanted messages –promotional or fraudulent – the survey asked “under what all categories are you getting promotional or spam messages, 73% or the largest segment is financial services. In order of responses, next biggest segment of 69% pointed to selling real estate; 54% ticked providing healthcare/ pathology services; 50% offering a job/earnings opportunity; 42% providing services like RO repair, spa, beauty care or massage; 42% online or fantasy gaming; 35% providing mobile number/ better mobile talk /data plans, etc.; 31% other categories. Out of 12,328 respondents to the survey question only 4% did not give a clear response while many among the other respondents selected more than one category.
When the same question was asked on Whatsapp spam or promotional messages, 69% subscribers said they get messages with someone selling real estate; 66% said they get messages with someone selling financial services and 62% reported someone selling pathology services too. 50% said they had someone offering a job/ earnings opportunity over Whatsapp; 43% said they were providing services like RO repair, spa, beauty care or a massage. 12,638 Whatsapp users responded to this question.
What is very clear with these responses is that as eyeballs focus more on Whatsapp for communication with their contacts, the spammers are also rapidly moving to the platform and Whatsapp isn’t doing much about the menace. Being a private platform, TRAI’s efforts in the future will only address the issue of spam SMS but cannot do much about spamming on Whatsapp.
77% citizens feel TRAI should work with telcos to mandatorily embed Mark Spam in each SMS message so users can easily report spammers
Citizens over the last 6 years have regularly been reporting the menace of spam SMS and find that TRAI has just not been able to address it. All efforts in the eyes of the mobile subscribers haven’t yielded any result. One of the very specific issues raised by subscribers is that TRAI must have an easy reporting mechanism for reporting spam SMS as the current app and sms based system is highly cumbersome. Basis these inputs, the next question in the survey sought citizens views on “should TRAI work with telcos to mandatorily embed Mark Spam in each SMS message so users can easily report such messages and senders can be subsequently acted against”, to which 77% out of 10,464 respondents stated “yes, it has to be very easy for users”. Of the remaining 14% respondents felt such a move “won’t have much of an impact” while 9% were uncertain on what would help to improve the situation.
In summary, the survey finds that not only the menace of spam SMS is continuing unabated with 68% mobile subscribers surveyed reporting receiving 4 or more spam or promotional messages each day. Now, the mobile phone user, most of who also use Whatsapp have another menace to deal with “spam or promotional Whatsapp messages”. 95% of Whatsapp users surveyed confirmed getting them while every mobile subscriber surveyed got spam SMS regardless of their DND list registration. The survey also found that the spammers are the same as financial services, real estate services and pathology services were the top categories of spam confirmed by subscribers both on SMS as well as Whatsapp. While TRAI can’t do much to address Whatsapp spam, 77% mobile subscribers want it to work with telcos and enable a Report Spam feature within the SMS as the current reporting mechanisms aren’t found to be user friendly. Then there is the need for strong action to be taken against spammers once people report them. All in all, while people have a lot of hope in 5G, it is unclear how the menace of spam SMS will be addressed. High time the regulator, the telcos and platforms like Whatsapp work together to drastically reduce this menace.
The survey received over 57,000 responses from citizens located in 373 districts of India. 62% respondents were men while 38% respondents were women. 45% respondents were from tier 1, 32% from tier 2 and 23% respondents were from tier 3, 4 and rural districts. The survey was conducted via LocalCircles platform and all participants were validated citizens who had to be registered with LocalCircles to participate in this survey.
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