India leads with the use of blockchain to stem spam calls. Will Hong Kong follow?


Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies that allow transactions outside the regulated financial sector have attracted the attention of regulators around the world and, at times, have attracted the attention of luminaries as the investor Warren Buffett and CEO of JPMorgan Chase, Jamie Dimon. Some countries have banned cryptocurrencies and exchanges that exchange them, some have offered support, while others like South Korea have been mercurial – first they threaten to ban the trade in digital currencies, then changing their orientation.

Ambivalence, however, does not extend to distributed ledger technology, the platform commonly known as blockchain that supports and enables cryptocurrencies. Blockchain, essentially a chain of encrypted transaction records, is a rapidly evolving new use of existing technologies that promises to make a broader range of sectors and government functions more efficient. In front of regulatory authorities, Big Four, Microsoft and Amazon accounting firms have embraced technology and offered blockchain services.

And on July 19, the Telecommunications Authority of India became the first authority in the world to exploit blockchain technology to curb what is called the "threat" of spam and unwanted messages, which afflicts telephone users from Delhi to Detroit.

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Organizations should not blindly adapt their existing database systems, often centralized with blockchain technology. Just as most people have not abandoned their paid family version of Microsoft Word to a free Google word processor, IT managers are unlikely to get away from what they're used to unless they see benefits for size: revenues 10 times higher or costs that are 10 times lower. But when blockchain can drastically accelerate things – by reducing a process that required whole days in minutes – it might be time to consider a change.

However, it must also be determined whether the adoption of blockchain technology makes sense for a particular use. In the case of calls and unsolicited telemarketing messages from India, the country's telecommunications regulator seems to have recognized the three factors that make the blockchain the preferred solution.

First, most untrusted parties can write to the same database.

Secondly, the regulator does not want a third-party intermediary to handle interactions.

Third, data items in the database can not be independent from one another; any change to a record will affect other records or applications that use them.

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With the adoption of blockchain technology, those who make or end a telemarketing call, send a message commercial and record the preference or complaint of a customer will be able to access, in almost real time and protected by privacy, the same database and the same information verified.

In fact, the Indian telecoms regulator has delegated centralized management of customer preferences to the different companies, which now place the records in a database of items that are inextricably linked to the previous ones.

The regulator also expects telecommunications operators to recognize customer preferences and complaints within 15 minutes, rather than the week when it was used for the old system. He even proposed, but not required, the use of artificial intelligence to help detect the telltale signs or digital signatures of those who abuse the system and make automated calls to hundreds or thousands of people simultaneously.

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One wonders whether Hong Kong or other jurisdictions will follow the initiative of India to automate and modernize customer preference tracking systems for the non-call registers. In Hong Kong, the request to stop receiving prerecorded messages still takes two weeks to take effect and the cold calls made by humans are not checked.

Furthermore, while the India approach allows consumers to choose the type, source and time of day for commercial messages they are willing to receive, the Hong Kong system is still all or nothing.

Paul Ulrich advises the governments of the Asia-Pacific on the mobile communications policy on behalf of the GSM Association, a global commercial entity service representing mobile network operators. This article represents your personal opinions and does not necessarily reflect those of the GSMA, its members or associated members

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