What­sApp? Un­wanted Mes­sages are Back

Fet­tered by rules on bulk SMSes, tele­mar­keters find a new av­enue to reach out to the pub­lic

The Economic Times - - Companies - GULVEEN AULAKH

On a Thurs­day morn­ing this month, Nikhil Maggu, a 26-year-old tech­ni­cal lead at a soft­ware com­pany in Gur­gaon, re­ceived a mes­sage of­fer­ing him 50% off on food and drinks in about 200 restaurants. A month ago, he got a dis­count of­fer from a lo­cal spa.

It was all too fa­mil­iar — the kind of an­noy­ing mes­sages that spammed mo­bile phone in­boxes be­fore the rules were in­tro­duced to reg­u­late tele­mar­ket­ing. This time though the medium was dif­fer­ent. They came on What­sApp, the pop­u­lar mes­sag­ing ap­pli­ca­tion. The rules that ap­ply to un­wanted mar­ket­ing calls and SMSes don’t ap­ply on the mes­sages sent on What­sApp. The so­cial me­dia is largely un­reg­u­lated, and some lit­tle-known tele­mar­keters are us­ing this reg­u­la­tory vac­uum to sell ser­vices that al­low their cus­tomers to send hun­dreds and thou­sands of mes­sages to What­sApp users.

“It’s a new con­cept, but it’s a nui­sance,” Maggu said, adding that he started get­ting such mes­sages on What­sApp three months ago.

West Delhi-based Elion Tech­nolo­gies & Con­sult­ing is fea­tured on a few on­line busi­ness-list­ing web­sites as a provider of bulk mes­sages on What­sApp. A com­pany rep­re­sen­ta­tive said cus­tomers can opt for plans start­ing from 10,000 mes­sages cost­ing 30 paise each plus taxes. There’s a dis­count for larger or­ders. For in­stance, an or­der for a mil­lion mes­sages to What­sApp users costs 22 paise a piece, and the buyer has one full year to ex­haust the in­ven­tory. The com­pany pro­vides po­ten­tial cus­tomers a trial run: reg­is­ter on its web­site, What­sAppU.com, and get 25 cred­its to test the ser­vice. It also sells video and au­dio mes­sages, as well as vir­tual vis­it­ing cards, for a higher fee. The mes­sages can be sent in bulk via com­puter. Send­ing un­so­licited mes­sages in bulk is a vi­o­la­tion of What­sApp’s terms of ser­vice and those do­ing so can be banned from us­ing it, a What­sApp spokesper­son said. “We have al­ready taken le­gal ac­tion against many com­pa­nies that... try to send un­so­licited mes­sages to our users.” The spokesper­son didn’t say whether What­sApp has en­coun­tered vi­o­la­tors of its rules in In­dia, or what le­gal ac­tion it has taken so far. Elion Tech­nolo­gies and Ozone SMS, a re­seller of bulk mes­sages that it sources from Elion Tech­nolo­gies, did not re­spond to an e-mailed ques­tion on whether What­sApp con­tacted them over any such is­sues. Al­though What­sapp users can block num­bers that send such mes­sages, there isn’t any spam quar­an­tine fa­cil­ity un­like most email ser­vices There are com­pa­nies abroad which pro­vide sim­i­lar bulk mes­sag­ing ser­vices. Ac­cord­ing to a con­sul­tant track­ing the so­cial me­dia sec­tor, send­ing bulk mes­sages on What­sApp doesn’t vi­o­late any law in In­dia, and it is up to the mes­sag­ing plat­form to de­cide what to do with them. What­sApp is hugely pop­u­lar in In­dia and is still ex­pand­ing fast. In Fe­bru­ary, chief ex­ec­u­tive Jan Koum told ET that it had around 40 mil­lion ac­tive users in the coun­try. Al­though Tele­com in­dus­try ex­ec­u­tives said the mar­keters were tak­ing the un­reg­u­lated over­the-top (OTT) route since send­ing un­so­licited mes­sages on tele­com net­works is pro­hib­ited by the Tele­com Reg­u­la­tory Author­ity of In­dia (Trai). Since 2011, such pro­mo­tional mes­sages could be sent only to those who have opted for them and be­tween 9 am and 9 pm. Phone users calls can opt for the “Do Not Dis­turb” fa­cil­ity to pre­vent tele­mar­keters from con­tact­ing them. Vi­o­la­tion of the rules would in­vite heavy penal­ties, in­clud­ing black­list­ing of the sender for two years.

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