Towards a new digital communication services era - Hindustan Times

Towards a new digital communication services era

Jul 03, 2024 01:15 PM IST

This article is authored by Karnal Singh, managing partner, Circle of Counsels and Lalantika Arvind, lawyer and associate, Koan Advisory Group, New Delhi.

As Jyotiraditya Scindia took charge as the new communications minister, he underscored the importance of the nation’s telecom industry in connecting “millions of people across India and the globe.” Scindia’s statements indicate a commitment to increasing connectivity across the country. This pledge comes at a crucial time when digital communication is evolving rapidly. A key facet often overlooked in the push for digital inclusion is the role of business communications in achieving this goal.

Digital communication (Unsplash)
Digital communication (Unsplash)

Enhancing business communications not only improves economic efficiency but also extends digital benefits to a broader population, including those who rely on secure and reliable messaging for essential services and economic participation. One such technology poised to revolutionise mass digital communication is Rich Communication Services (RCS) messaging, which stands as a significant improvement over the 30-year-old Short Message Service (SMS) technology currently in use.

For mass digital communication, SMS is still the default method to share one-time passwords (OTPs), business messaging, and public service announcements. However, this method is outdated and open to security vulnerabilities and inefficiencies. For instance, ‘spoofing’ scams occur when bad actors trick users into clicking on harmful links that install malware on their phones. Since there is no verification of the sender in SMS technology, attacks of this nature are easier. Bad actors can disguise their names to mirror any of the victim’s contacts or important facilities like banks or hospitals.

Owing to innumerable scams impersonating the State Bank of India, the government issued advisories warning users about SMS-origin attacks in 2023. Additionally, SMS providers do not have uniform security protocols to protect their systems and avoid any vulnerabilities. Uniform protocols ensure base-level security for all users.

RCS runs on mobile data or WiFi and encrypts the messages thereby ensuring user privacy. It also verifies users, hence only legitimate businesses can contact their clients and utilise mass messaging services.

Since RCS is based on internet services, it allows users to share multimedia, send long messages, and receive read receipts. RCS is also native to users’ devices, meaning there is no need to download a new app or set up an account. This feature promotes digital inclusion for SMS-dependent users who have not transitioned to communication apps like WhatsApp or Telegram.

Apps like WhatsApp and Telegram are also encrypted and more secure than SMS technology. However, these communication apps face vulnerabilities through fake accounts. Account creation and verification on these apps are fairly simple because there is no need to link it to the hardware of the device (i.e SIM card). Hence, it is easy to use the service across devices. This vulnerability is often exploited by hackers and malicious actors due to ease of account creation.

Conversely, RCS can only be accessed on devices that have a SIM card. Thus, RCS balances traditional and new-age messaging by providing the scale required for business messaging and the security benefits tied to SIM-card authentication.

RCS is also safer than SMS for OTPs and other similar messages due to its encryption standards, which ensure that messages are not visible to outsiders. Other RCS features also prevent international spam - a feat SMS and communication apps still struggle with. These features include the verification process, users’ ability to report spam, on-device protections for spam identification and the use of AI to identify spam.

The Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) guidelines for digital payment security recommend that banks follow the highest available standard for securing financial data. Given RCS’ extensive security protocols, it meets this requirement.

Technologies like RCS are integrated with the broader mobile ecosystem and do not require separate licensing by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). Telcos are already compliant with telecom security regulations such as the Telecom Commercial Communications Customer Preference Regulations, 2018, which protect users from unsolicited commercial communication. Therefore, adherence to these regulations is inherent in any RCS messaging service.

RCS has also been adopted by state governments like Kerala and Odisha for mass communication due to its robust features. In Maharashtra, residents use RCS to buy bus tickets through corporate partnerships.

Technologies like RCS messaging can vastly improve user welfare in digital markets. As we move into a new era of tech governance, it is essential to employ innovation for inclusivity and greater user security.

This article is authored by Karnal Singh, managing partner, Circle of Counsels and Lalantika Arvind, lawyer and associate, Koan Advisory Group, New Delhi.

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