Google has disabled the use of Rich Communication Services (RCS) for businesses in India over growing reports of spamming
Experts believe that Google’s step is a temporary one the company will restart the service for businesses
India was among the top four countries in the world affected by spam messages last year
While the US-based tech giant Google has pulled the plug on its Rich Communication Services (RCS) for businesses in India over growing reports of spamming, experts believe that it is only a temporary action.
A few industry leaders Inc42 spoke to were of the opinion that the ban on the use of Google RCS in India by companies could ultimately be revoked and the tech giant might come up with stricter policies around spam messages.
RCS is a messaging protocol that replaces traditional SMS with a richer text system and end-to-end encryption. Besides Google, several other companies like Meta-owned WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, telecom operators including Vodafone and Bharti Airtel also support RCS in messaging.
Following an increasing number of reports about ads and spam messages on the Google Messages platform, leading to many users stopping using the app, Google decided to halt the service for the companies to promote their businesses.
Spam messages and emails are a major concern globally. Though the percentage of total spam emails has dropped over the years, spam messages accounted for 45.37% of email traffic in December 2021, as per a recent Statista report. Besides, all spam messages are not benign and merely promotional, and a significant portion of spam messages are aimed at damaging or hijacking user systems.
In fact, India was among the top four countries in the world affected by spam messages last year, as per Truecaller’s 2021 Global Spam & Scam report. Over 202 Mn spam calls were made by just one spammer in India in 2021, which is over 6,64,000 calls every day and 27,000 calls every hour.
It is important to note that Google, in its email service Gmail, has managed the spamming issue quite well where its algorithm segregates spam and promotional messages with a high accuracy rate. Google claims that the accuracy rate is 99.9%.
Google RCS To Revive For Promotions With Stricter Rules?
Speaking to Inc42, Umair Mohammad, founder and CEO of Wigzo, said that Google’s RCS ban for business promotions is likely to be temporary because the tech giant is a propagator of RCS. Wigzo enables omnichannel marketing for D2C brands.
“I think what Google wanted to do is take a step back and analyse the spam compliance framework around the service,” said Mohammad adding that while Google ensured KYC norms were followed while onboarding businesses, there were no penalties attached to spamming.
In fact, though there are anti-spam policies in place, Google acknowledged in a statement that some businesses in India were abusing the existing policies to send promotional messages to users.
Mohammad also stressed that when Google comes back with its service for business promotions, it must be back with a stronger legal and compliance framework to ensure that the users receive only legitimate messages.
Saying that India needs stronger and robust compliance, with stricter penalties for anyone violating the spam laws, he said that the responsibility lies not only with the companies like Google but also with the government.
“It’s a good thing that Google has done it now, which would lead to ensuring stricter rules around spamming, and companies will also have to make sure that they personalise messages well so that they don’t get marked as spam,” he further opined. “It’s a blessing in disguise.”
In the age of personalisation, where users want not only messages that they have signed up for but also more personalised messages and expect the brands to know their preferences, the prevalence of spam is a major concern, he added.
Echoing a similar tone, Gaurav Chopra, founder at IndiaLends, said, “I am pretty sure that the service will come back in an avatar that will benefit the businesses as well as their users.”
Online fintech startup IndiaLends was one of the business partners in Google’s RCS messaging.
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“I am assuming that Google will also follow some methods where only genuine players would be allowed to use their services,” Chopra added.
Inc42 has reached out to Google about its future plans for RCS for businesses in India. The story will be updated on receiving a response from the company.
Will The Ban Be Detrimental To Legitimate Businesses?
Last month, Google said that RCS had crossed over 500 Mn monthly active users (MAUs) globally. However, as per experts, the usage of the service as a channel for promotion was low in India and not many businesses used it as a major tool to communicate with their users.
There will be some short-term impact on the businesses who used it legitimately, but RCS as a channel only had about 15% penetration, hence it’s nothing significant, said Mohammad.
Google’s move came at the right time when it was still planning to tie up with other telecom service providers to increase market penetration, he said, adding that if the penetration was higher, it would have been more detrimental to a larger number of businesses.
On the other hand, Chopra believes that the ban is an unfortunate event, and the businesses trying to genuinely help their customers will suffer because of some businesses spamming the users.
“However, it is fine because we have multiple mediums to communicate,” he said. “It is not going to cause much impact in the medium-to-long term.”
Could Google Have Handled The Issue Better?
While there are genuine issues with controlling spam messages, many believe that Google Messages could have addressed it in a better way.
In fact, users and experts Inc42 spoke to said Meta-owned WhatsApp has done a better job in this context.
Manan Shah, senior lead for campaigns and martech at fintech firm Angel One, who used Google RCS for customer engagement, said that when WhatsApp opened its RCS for business promotions, it didn’t give approval to all businesses. It gradually built a controlled ecosystem around the service. Hence, WhatsApp users receive business messages from services they have signed up for and nothing unsolicited.
Both Chopra and Mohammad also said that WhatsApp has done a good job in managing business promotion on its platform.
“Since the users can report and block spam on WhatsApp, we (businesses) do promotions in moderation,” added Chopra.
Shah also noted that businesses had to pay a very minimal amount for using Google RCS for promotional activities. “The pricing factor could have also led to anyone using the service and hence, more spamming issues emerged,” he said.
Steps To Curb Spamming In India
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) came out with the Telecom Commercial Communication Customer Preference Regulation (TCCCPR), 2018 to curb the menace of unsolicited commercial communications. The regulations came into force in February 2019.
The rules require telecom operators to use Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) to bar the transmission of certain messages.
However, according to a report last year by the Indian Review of Advanced Legal Research, despite the framework being in place, a majority of the telcos are “either unregistered or expired and yet sending unsolicited messages to everyone by simply changing the header or code”.
Besides, Section 66A of the Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008 had a provision to punish the senders of any “electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience” with three years of imprisonment.
In 2015, the Supreme Court struck down the provision calling it “open-ended and unconstitutionally vague” in the Shreya Singhal versus Union of India case.
Last year, the apex court demanded an answer from the central government about the rampant use of the Section by law enforcement agencies even after it was struck down. Meanwhile, spamming continues to plague users across a majority of the communication platforms.