TRAI Chairman wants Apple to share data, but he is wrong

By Prasid Banerjee | Published 24 Jul 2017 17:42 IST
TRAI Chairman wants Apple to share data, but he is wrong
  • TRAI's Chairman R.S. Sharma says users can't access data on call logs and data speeds, but he's wrong.

The chairman of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has called on Apple to allow access to call and data speed logs on iPhone. R.S. Sharma, the chairman of TRAI, said that the fact that Apple doesn’t allow users access to these logs makes it difficult for TRAI to track the quality of voice and data services on its devices, which the regulatory body is able to get through some apps it has designed.

Sharma called this a serious problem and said, “Not only are users not allowed to have their own data, Apple doesn’t allow them to share their data with anybody with whom they want to share. So, for example, the regulator TRAI made an application for monitoring data speeds or reporting unwanted commercial calls. They (Apple) said you can’t have access to your own phone logs or SMS logs.”

Here’s the problem with his statement

While TRAI has championed issues of net neutrality in the past and made quite a few favourable calls against companies and telcos, this may be one instance of where the regulator is wrong. On the face of it, Sharma’s words sound innocent enough, but the possible issue here is greater.

Apple has historically been known to resist government requests for data, as proven amply by its recent altercation with the FBI in the States. Sharma’s request is neither as grave, nor is it a really a “request”. The TRAI chief has made a simple statement in this regard, and while we can assume that Apple will ignore it, the company will have its reasons to do so.

When Sharma says that “users are not allowed to have their own data”, it’s somewhat misleading. You can view data speeds and call logs on the iPhone, which means you DO HAVE access to that data. Apple is barring access to this information for third party apps, and that’s a move meant for security purposes. Apple can’t simply allow TRAI’s apps to access this data, because it will then have to allow every app on the App Store to do so. Not only will it set a precedent, but that’s just how App Stores work. Apple, Google, Microsoft etc. can allow apps to ask for specific permission sets. Apps ask for these permissions and users decide whether to grant them or not. Apps also have the option to make certain permissions “essential”, without which they will not run.

What’s the solution?

We can probably assume that TRAI itself will not misuse such data, but there have been reported and proven cases where other apps have. Moreover, TRAI could actually devise a workaround for this quite easily, although it would make for a slightly difficult experience for users.

TRAI’s DND app simply flags possible spam calls and texts, and users then have to take a call on whether to report them through the app. The same can still be done, except that instead of the app flagging these calls and texts automatically, TRAI will have to create a form that users can use to report said calls and texts.

The data speed issue is slightly more complicated. For this, TRAI’s MySpeed app, which is already available on iOS will have to be used. If users use the app to check data speeds, TRAI can use that data to pinpoint networks that are providing slow data speeds regularly. The regulator can get data on location, IPS and speeds through it. Again, a form can be put in place for users to take a final call on whether to report such speeds or not.

Why should TRAI make the effort?

Sharma’s statement has a sort of hidden purpose here. TRAI has already created apps for the above mentioned tasks. If Apple allows those apps to access the required data, TRAI will not have to create drastically different apps and hence spend on their development. However, spending on that development gets the regulator rich data, which Android phones often can’t provide.

In our experience, Apple’s iPhones excel in connectivity and in providing high data speeds. Android’s fragmented ecosystem often generates less than dependable data in this regard, since a user may be using lower end phones, which often falter in these features. With data from iPhones, TRAI will be getting dependable and actionable information from millions of users.

Prasid Banerjee
Prasid Banerjee

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