Last year I posted on “Indian websites haven’t earned my trust“. What had annoyed me enough to write that piece was moneycontrol.com. Once it got hold of my email, it started sending me an email a day with an inane “Sensex was down 89 points, your networth?” Unsubscribing hasn’t worked so far. Eventually, I relegated it to “spam” in my email client where it finds company with all the Viagra and penny stock spam. I wonder what they’ve done with my email though. Probably sold it half a dozen times already, along with those of a thousand other unsuspecting subscribers.
Email spamming is one nuisance. Another one is pop-up ads. Especially, the ones that pop-up behind your current window. And the worst ones – that throw a pop-up every 5 minutes. Rediff.com does all of the above. It also installs adware on its subscribers machines. And of course, it spams (39 emails a week!) like any other good Indian consumer website. Take a look at McAfee’s site advisor analysis of rediff.com.
A different kind of spamming is what Airtel does. When I go to India, I use a pre-paid Airtel phone. After every call I get a message, usually selling ring tones. In addition, half a dozen text messages a day, also selling ring tones. But the worst, are these calls that I get with a recorded message at the other end. Other people feel the same teeth-gnashing anger at these as I do.
This has got to stop. Its becoming a race to the bottom of the worst kind. Here are my recommendations:
1. Email spam needs to be legislated against. The US has something called the CAN-SPAM act, but for India I prefer something similar to the UK version of it which requires the owners permission (opt-in) before a website can send out bulk email. US law requires the website to strictly operate an “Unsubscribe” feature (opt-out). This is not sufficient in the “chalta hai” Indian scenario. An opt-in will require a post facto audit trail, which is good.
2. Intrusive ads on websites and pop-up ads are hard to legislate against. Pop-up windows have legitimate uses also and there is no bright line separating intrusive from non-intrusive ads. Browser technology attempts to block pop-ups but the pop-up advertisers are winning this nuclear arms race, so far. No, I don’t think legislation is the answer. I think we should leave this to the market to sort out. If there is enough competition, someone will break from the pack and actually try to provide a superior user experience. So far none of the leading dailies seems to be keen to do this. But it will happen when they start losing their most discerning readers to Yahoo India and Google India.
3. Cellular phone companies telemarketing and spamming you with text messages requires legislation. The competition in the market is not strong enough to hope that things will sort themselves out. Telemarketing will be curbed somewhat by the Do Not Call Registry but what about SMS marketing messages? I think they should be banned unless a user opts in.
I wonder if these “Caveat Emptor” type issues in India are a result of hyper-growth (If I lose this customer, there are a dozen more) or just complacence that arises out of getting poor services from public sector banks, telecoms etc. for that past two decades.