Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Apple Agrees to Help India With Anti-Spam App After Initially Refusing Due to Privacy Concerns

Apple has agreed to help the Indian government develop an anti-spam app for iOS devices, after initially refusing to do so because of privacy concerns, according to Reuters.

In early September we reported that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) attempted to get its Do Not Disturb (DND) software on the App Store. The app lets users share spam call and text message logs with the agency, which then sends the data to mobile operators for them to block the spammers.

Apple originally told regulators that the DND app violates its privacy policy, however today’s report suggests the tech giant has had a change of heart.

Facing public criticism from the regulator, Apple executives flew to New Delhi last month and told officials the company would help develop the app, but only with limited capabilities, according to a government official aware of the matter.

Apple’s executives have told India that its current iOS platform might not allow for some of the government’s requests, such as making call logs available within the app that would allow users to report them as spam, the official said.

According to Indian officials, Apple has offered to help develop an app that can solve the regulator’s requirements “to an extent”.

Meanwhile, an Apple spokesman has confirmed that the new iOS features to combat spam text messages would help the government build the app, but he didn’t comment on the app’s potential inability to access call logs for reporting spam. The spokesman also underlined the fact that Apple had not changed its stance on privacy.

Marketing cold calls and unsolicited commercial text messages have become a big problem in India. Mobile users have the option to register themselves under a “do not disturb” service to block marketers, but businesses have gamed the system by using multiple phone numbers for promotions, according to Reuters. TRAI’s Do Not Disturb app has been available on Android since last year and has been downloaded more than 100,000 times.

Before the app launches, it asks the user to allow it access to contacts and view text messages. Users can then start reporting numbers as spam. This kind of access has evidently concerned Apple. “The app can peep into logs, Apple had conveyed that their (privacy) policy does not allow this,” said a cited industry source familiar with the matter. Those concerns prompted Apple to ask for talks with state regulators, but the proposal has apparently frustrated officials.

“The whole exercise in organizing the proposed meeting would be a waste of resources … please share concrete solutions that have a likelihood of addressing the issues we have been discussing over the past one year,” the regulator wrote in September.

Later the same month, Apple told TRAI it had identified potential solutions, but that it would need to have further discussions with the regulator’s technical staff. Those discussions are said to have taken place in October, with Apple subsequently confirming that it would help develop the first version of the app with limited features.

Apple has been in talks with the Indian government to open retail stores and to gain permission to sell used iPhones imported into the country. The company is also seeking economic concessions including tax breaks as it sets up local manufacturing plants there, but those efforts could have been negatively impacted by Apple’s refusal to approve the anti-spam software.

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