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Airtel & Idea Demand Same Data Protection Rules For Telcos & OTT Apps

Over the past few years, messengers like Viber, Tango and WhatsApp have gained immense popularity

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Same Rules For Telecoms And OTT Apps

Over the past few years, messengers like Viber, Tango and WhatsApp have gained immense popularity, first due to their messaging feature and later due to the fact that these apps allowed free voice and video calling.

They even allowed international calls, virtually free, with the only cost being the data. Naturally, this angered the telecom companies who began losing revenue to these new apps.

After a period of lull in the battle between telecoms and these OTT (Over The Top) communication providers, Airtel and Idea have fired a fresh salvo. They have demanded that TRAI should apply the same rules of data protection to these apps.

There Should Be Equality And Uniformity: Telecoms To TRAI

Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has recently released a consultation paper on ‘Privacy, Security And Ownership of the Data in the Telecom Sector’. This paper has outlined a stringent framework of rules for telecoms to protect their users data from being misused by advertisers or malafide abuse.

Now, Airtel and Idea, two of the largest telecoms of India have demanded that the strict data protection rules applied to the telecom industry should also be applied “equally and uniformly” to the Over The Top (OTT) apps which offer calling services.

Airtel has said,

“In this sector, customer privacy has three significant sources of vulnerabilities – device, network and content providers – and any law that limits its scope to telecom service providers alone will not be able to holistically address the issue of protection and privacy of personal data,”

It further said that telecoms and OTT players operate in the same internet ecosystem and deal with the same personal data. But both are governed by different sets of rules and regulations.

They also feel that the rules and regulations regarding data privacy that govern the telecom operators licences are already strong enough, negating the need of separate regulations.

Meanwhile, Airtel has said in a written response to TRAI,

“For example, while TSPs (telecom service providers) are not allowed to send the personal data of their customers outside India, there is no such prohibition/restriction on other players,”

COAI Steps In

Industry body Cellular Operators Association Of India (COAI) has appealed to TRAI to have “same service, same rules” for all stakeholders including telecoms and OTT communication providers.

COAI says that these apps provide messaging services and voice telephony, which are similar to services offered by regular telecoms. So the rules regarding data privacy should be the same for both these players.

Idea feels that these OTT apps provide comparable services, but operate in a ‘free unregulated market environment’. While telecoms follow various norms and SOPs to protect their subscribers data, OTT players do no such thing.

Idea has also highlighted the need of a comprehensive framework that goes beyond telecom operators and includes all players in the digital ecosystem, in addressing the definition of personal data and its protection mechanism. ‘Anonymised or aggregated’ data which cannot be used to directly or indirectly identify a person should not require user consent, according to Idea.

The Arguments Continue…

According to the Internet Freedom Foundation, the current data protection requirements are “inadequate and completely deficient”, specifically when it comes to telecom subscribers data.

It has said,

“Given large amounts of personal data are transmitted through smartphones, in addition the existing regulations, a comprehensive legislation needs to be made following the principles of the 9-judge bench judgement (Supreme Court) on the right to privacy,”

What do you think? Should the same rules and regulations govern telecoms and OTT communication providers? Or are you ok with the current situation as long as you get free voice and video calls?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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