Free text apps: Will the govt's SMS ban work?

To ensure that the malicious rumours, which led to a mass exodus of north-eastern people in some states, don't cause further panic, the government has unilaterally banned bulk SMSes and MMSes for 15 days across the country. Will it effective though?


To ensure that the malicious rumours, which led to a mass exodus of north-eastern people in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, etc, don't cause further panic, the government has unilaterally banned bulk SMSes and MMSes for 15 days across the country.

"We have banned bulk SMSes and MMSes for 15 days," Union Home Secretary R K Singh told PTI.

The decision was taken after reports of widespread circulation of SMSes and MMSes containing misleading information about Assam violence and threats to people of northeastern origin living in other parts of the country. The Home Ministry has asked Department of Telecommunications to implement the order through the telecom operators.

From Sunday onwards, no one will be able to send more than 5 SMSes in one go and more than 20 KB of data through mobile phones during the ban period.

Home Secretary also said security agencies were monitoring social networking websites and trying to identify people who were using such platforms to spread rumours. Singh said exodus of people from the northeast from different cities has stopped marginally and states like Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh were reaching out to them to allay their apprehensions.

 Free text apps: Will the govts SMS ban work?

Students of North Eastern states showing threat messages on the mobile phone to Congress MP Oscar Fernandes in Mangalore. PTI

While the move to ban text messaging might prove marginally effective, there is no doubt that with several free messaging apps such as Whatsapp, iMessages for iPhones and iPads, BlackBerry Messenger for BB smartphones, the ban will be difficult to implement.

According to this Times of India report, the order has caused confusion amongst telecom operators. The question for telecomm operators: what exactly is bulk SMS-which typically refers to commercial SMSs used mainly by telemarketers. Some say the government order aims at stopping a single SMS from being sent to more than five people from one source.

The govt's aim is clear with this order: ensure that no one party can send mass messages to people to cause panic. The problem: the modes of messaging are just so many that a cap limit won't be sufficient. A ban on data mobile limit is obviously aimed at ensuring that no morphed pictures or videos are sent out to cause more panic but once again users can override it by using wi-fi.

Even the most basic feature phones such as Nokia 112, has support for online messaging such as Facebook, Nimbuzz, etc. And this phone costs only Rs 2,647. Nearly every phone manufacturer, even if they don't produce a smartphone tries to ensure that some sort of app for free messaging is available for users. So unlike in the past when only few could share images or videos via a phone, today it's almost impossible to find someone who's phone doesn't have these capabilities. This makes the task of the government even more complicated.

For the government, the problem of malicious text messaging means that it has to step in with some sort of control to ensure that more people don't fall prey to false rumours. But what makes this so difficult to curb is the fact there are various modes and methods of subverting such a ban.

A ban may work only partially in curbing rumours. The real task at hand for the government is to convince the people that these are indeed false rumours and that their security is not at risk.

With inputs from PTI


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