India's telecom regulator accuses Apple of ‘colonizing data'

In a peculiar news, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is accusing Apple of “data colonization,” as its devices restrict its users from sharing call and text details with the regulator.

The issue of unsolicited calls and text messages is quite rampant in India, and so the TRAI have had to set up a service where users can report phone numbers and text messages for spam.

R.S.Sharma, TRAI Chairman

A feature phone can report phone numbers and text messages using a tedious USSD-based method, but the TRAI has created an Android app to make the process more intuitive on smartphones. Unfortunately, as can be expected, the app requires complete access to the call log, call details, and text messages.

Apple, however, does not grant apps access to this information, and so the TRAI has been unable to create an app for iOS. In an interview with The Times of India, TRAI’s Chairman, R.S. Sharma, expressed his disdain against Apple:

"While Google's Android supports our Do-Not-Disturb (DND) app, Apple has just been discussing, discussing, and discussing. They have not done anything."

"They are anti-consumer and they are really not caring for their customers who could have been saved from pesky calls and unwanted messages."

[sic]

Apple has not publicly commented on the issue, but giving unrestricted access to such information is a significant privacy concern. Google’s Android grants access to this information with user consent, but Apple has always had a slightly stricter policy with regards to its user’s data; this, per Sharma, is an issue:

"So basically you (Apple) are violating the right of the user to willingly share his/her own data with the regulator or with any third party of his/her choice. If a customer wants to share financial transaction data with his/her bank, for getting a loan, why should it not be allowed? This is what we call data colonization."

“Apple can at best be the custodian of data. The ownership should remain and shall remain with the consumer who produced the data.”

The TRAI’s accusation comes at a time when the Supreme Court of India is debating on whether the Right to Privacy is a fundamental constitutional right for an Indian citizen. A historic five-judge constitution bench concluded the hearing on the issue earlier this month but has reserved its judgment.

However, for the TRAI, this debate is more about data ownership than the user’s privacy:

"There is a more fundamental question about data ownership. While data privacy and data security are very important issues, there is also a fundamental issue about data ownership over here.”

The TRAI has also announced that it will begin a consultation process on this matter later this week, seeking views from carriers and other telecom entities. The input will then be used to create recommendations for the Ministry of Telecommunications, who will then take the final decision.

Apple’s privacy policy is quite clear on the issue, and the company doesn’t easily budge on it. It will be interesting to see where this debate goes, but if Apple is to come to a solution, the company would probably prefer to build it into iOS, rather than providing the TRAI with an exception; meanwhile, the Android app sits at a score of 1.9, at the time of writing.

Source: The Times of India, The Economic Times | Images via Press Trust of India, eletsonline

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