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The unhidden persuaders

What will it take to win freedom from the menace of 24x7 telesales?

Written by Inder Malhotra |
August 15, 2012 12:56:55 am

What will it take to win freedom from the menace of 24×7 telesales?

AT A time when — despite its brave declarations that it is “back in business” and is about to release “animal spirits” in the country — the UPA 2 government cannot deliver anything it promises,it does seem pointless to register the complaint that follows. But human patience has a limit. Driven to despair,one has to protest sometime,even if it turns out to be futile.

It was a long time ago that we received from the powers that be the soothing assurance that the menace of 24×7 telesales through calls on millions of mobiles would become a thing of the past by a certain date in 2011. The pernicious activity was being banned and the violators of this prohibition would be punished. Since then the calls have become rare,not extinct. But there is no end to a torrent of SMSes. Sometime ago a limit was put to the number of SMSes companies can send in a day. This is cold comfort to suffering mobile users. A phone number to which complaints could be forwarded hasn’t yet been activated by TRAI. Why can this torment not be ended?

After all,Kapil Sibal had no hesitation in calling social media to order. Indeed,he had summoned the representatives of Google,Facebook et al and read them the riot act. He had demanded that these networks pre-censor all messages before circulating them,because a large number of these promoted hatred and violence on religious or other grounds and could disturb the peace in many lands. What he reportedly also said to them but never publicised was that a lot of traffic on these networks maligned “exalted Indian leaders” viciously.

After a fair amount of ding-dong argumentation it became clear that there was no way social media networks across the world would be subject to any restrictions and that,in any case,no one could read through tens of millions of messages exchanged every day. Some of the networks do erase any item they find objectionable,but some user or the other repeats it almost immediately. Even in India this was the case recently with a controversial CD concerning a prominent member of Parliament,despite a court order staying its circulation.

To be sure,there is nothing this country (or any other) can do about culprits in foreign lands even if they are NRIs. But surely the telecommunications and IT minister and TRAI,now under new leadership,can try and make their writ run within India.

Sick and tired of what can only be called “torture by texting”,I chose to reply to the sender of every message most courteously,requesting him or her to spare me,but to no avail. Then I repeated the same request rudely. It did have some impact that,sadly,lasted only a couple of days.

As everyone knows,real estate peddlers,including builders,form the biggest bunch of those who bombard us with unwanted and misleading messages. They offer us flats that are the “last word in luxury” or an opportunity to have the joy and pride of living in an “iconic tower”. Each such ad warns the receiver to “hurry because only the last few flats are left”. And yet the ad reappears a week later. Of course,there is never any dearth of other unhidden persuaders. Some of them offer you “inexpensive” jaunts to “exotic” health resorts and spas. Others demand a one-time investment of Rs 15 lakh that would “guarantee” a return of no less than 20 per cent a year. One offered ayurvedic medicines that would cure diabetes in a trice. The most curious message I got was in Hindi in Roman script. The pseudonymous astrologer informed me that my kundli was very promising,and if I took it to him,he would advise me,for a fee,on how to earn greater pelf and fame and so on.

Let it be said that among the tireless traders in real estate it is easy to recognise those tycoons that are arraigned in the 2G spectrum scam,along with A. Raja and others. Nothing better may be expected from them but what about those that usually follow higher standards of business ethics?

Not long ago Ratan Tata went to the Supreme Court to protect his privacy from being invaded. He had every right to do so,and he got the remedy he wanted. But then,shouldn’t he be so kind as to restrain his minions who send people SMSes virtually ordering them to buy,immediately,a Tata Photon connection? Or do the victims have to go to the apex court,notwithstanding high legal costs?

The writer is a Delhi-based political commentator

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