From the Viewsroom

Why a diktat on GPS in phones?

Jinoy Jose P | Updated on March 08, 2018 Published on April 16, 2017

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TRAI directive raises surveillance and cost concerns

India’s cellular companies are miffed with the telecom regulator, and for good reasons. They have urged TRAI to recall its directive to the department of telecom on making GPS mandatory in all mobile phones produced in India from January 2018. The industry’s worries are justified on two grounds. First is the potential threat to the feature phones industry. Adding a global positioning system to a feature phone will significantly increase its cost. India’s huge feature phone market of nearly 700 million users (against 300 million smartphone users) largely comprises the rural poor, the illiterate, migrants and low-earning urban workers. TRAI’s suggestion can affect mobile phone penetration, denting the Digital India mission.

The second issue, which the industry doesn’t seem too bothered about, is that of surveillance. Given the way the Government has been pushing devices that feature facilities such as location tracking and biometrics, often without adequate consultation with stakeholders and civil society representatives, activists are justifiably worried about their potential misuse. Of course, technically, users have control over enabling or disabling GPS , but in a country like India the uneducated and the poor are not always in a position to understand the fine print and control permissions. The features can be misused by intruding apps and agencies. Smartphone-users already face such issues.

Equally noteworthy is the suggestion to have a mandatory ‘panic button’ in all phones — all mobile handsets sold in India from January 2018 would feature one. Granted, the intent behind is to help people, mainly women in danger. But there are many apps that can do this. Moreover, such issues do not necessarily come under the purview of the telecom regulator. Keeping such facilities optional will better serve the cause of individual choice. The security of women and the vulnerable calls for social rather than purely technological responses.

Deputy Editor

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Published on April 16, 2017
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