Apple got into a tussle with TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) last year over an anti-spam app developed by the regulator. Unsolicited telemarketing and spam calls are rife in India, and the regulator created an app called Do Not Disturb to filter out such calls. While the app made its way to the Play Store just fine, it wasn't allowed on the App Store as Apple cited privacy issues.
Predictably, the regulator wasn't chuffed about its app being rejected, and started going on the offensive, labeling Apple's behavior as being "anti-consumer." After a year's worth of meetings and discussions with the regulator, Apple is now going to help the Indian government develop an anti-spam app tailored for iOS devices. Before we get into the details, a quick primer on TRAI's Do Not Disturb app.
What does TRAI's app do?
TRAI rolled out the first version of Do Not Disturb (DND) last year, relying on a crowdsourced approach that gave users the ability to easily report spam calls and texts. The regulator also built a spam detection engine for weeding out telemarketing SMSes. The main issue with DND — and the reason it was ultimately rejected from the App Store — was that it required a laundry list of permissions to run.
On Android, the app requires access to phone calls, contacts, and texts, which makes sense given that its goal is to identify spam calls. However, the app also asks for location and storage access, and it's the last bit that's worrisome. There's no reason for TRAI to require access to a device's storage, and the regulator hasn't exactly clarified why it needs this permission. TRAI chairman R S Sharma instead accused Apple of inaction:
Google, for its part, has left the decision to users, stating:
Going on the offensive
The regulator also touched on the subject of data ownership, stating that if a user wants to willingly share information with a third-party (like TRAI), then he should have the ability to do so:
TRAI went so far as to call Apple "anti-consumer:"
With Apple unwilling to give TRAI's app access to call logs, the regulator entered into a standoff that lasted over a year. Apple flew in execs to India to resolve the issue and go over "what is possible and not possible" with regards to the App Store guidelines, which TRAI labeled a "waste of resources:"
However, it finally looks like a resolution is in sight, as Reuters is reporting that Apple will develop "first version of the app" with limited capabilities for the regulator. For now, it sounds like TRAI is onboard with the solution:
Apple's decision to choose users' privacy over the regulator's demands is admirable, as is the company's decision to develop an anti-spam app that lets iPhone users in the country flag telemarketers with ease.
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