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TRAI’s Blockchain Spam Blocking System Disrupts UPI Payments, Bank OTPs

India’s telecom regulator has suspended the implementation of a system that helps keep a check on fraudulent and fake SMSes 

In February, telcos were asked to institute a new blockchain-based system to keep track and verify commercial SMSes sent by telemarketers 

However, the system caused disruptions in OTP authentication services prompting TRAI to suspend the new system for seven days

The telecom regulatory authority of India (TRAI) today issued directions to suspend operations of a system that keeps check on fraudulent and fake SMSes after it caused massive disruptions in UPI payments.  

The implementation of the blockchain system has been suspended for a period of seven-days after discrepancies were found in the onboarding process of PEs, TRAI said in a notification on Tuesday.

“It has been observed that some of the principal entities have not fulfilled the requirements as envisaged in Telecom Commercial Communications Customer Preference Regulations, 2018 (TCCCPR, 2018). As a result, their SMS were getting dropped after implementation of the scrubbing of SMS by Telecom Service Providers (telcos),” reads TRAI’s notification.

Reports, however, pointed out that the blockchain technology instituted by telcos to scrape off meta data of SMSes disrupted one-time Passwords (OTP) service operated by financial and non-financial institutions for user authentication. “TSPs (telcos) are being requested to inform their principal entities to take immediate necessary action in this regard and facilitate their registration including SMS template in a time-bound manner,” TRAI added in its notification.

TRAI’s Blockchain-Based Spam Blocker

On February 28, 2021, TRAI had implemented a new set of regulations that had directed telecom companies to institute a distributed ledger technology (sic blockchain tech) to verify and track commercial SMSes. 

The regulation mandated telcos to track registration of telemarketers, and meta-data such as headers, content templates, consent templates, registration of fine-grained subscriber preference etc. 

The blockchain technology to curb fraudulent and fake SMSes, referred to as Unsolicited Commercial Communication (UCC) by the TRAI was originally envisioned in the Telecom Commercial Communications Customer Preference Regulations, (TCCCPR) that was notified in 2018. 

Under the TCCCPR regulations, telcos were directed to keep a record of commercial message senders referred to as principal entities (PEs) by the TRAI. 

The need to curb the menace of SMS spam and fraudulent SMSes was underlined during a recent high-level meeting chaired by the Information Technology (IT) Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad. During the meeting, it was decided that a web/mobile application and an SMS-based system would be devised to enable telecom subscribers to lodge their complaints related to matters involving UCC.

During the meeting, officials pointed out that even the subscribers registered in Do-Not-Disturb (DND) service continue to receive commercial communication from registered telemarketers (RTMs) and further unregistered telemarketers (UTMs) are also sending commercial communication to the subscribers.

In November last year, India’s telecom regulator had fined eight leading Indian telecom companies including Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL), Reliance Jio, Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL), Videocon and Tata Teleservices INR 35 Cr collectively for failing to clamp down on fake SMSes. The brunt of the fine was borne by BSNL, which was asked to pay a penalty of INR 30.1 Cr. 

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