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TRAI anti-spam app rules could force iPhones off Indian phone networks

Apple's reluctance to allow a spam-reporting iOS app from India's Telecom Regulatory Authority (TRAI) onto the App Store may be bad news to its customers, after the regulator introduced a new policy that could force carriers to ban iPhones from their mobile networks if the app isn't accepted.

The new "Telecom Commercial Communication Customer Preference" regulation intends to cut down the number of nuisance or fraudulent calls in India, as well as unwanted marketing text messages and other spam. Part of the regulations overhaul is a requirement for carriers to allow customers to download a "Do Not Disturb" app to their devices to help combat spam, including reporting violations and setting subscription preferences for messages.

Spotted by India Today, the regulation also includes language that could affect user's devices if the app is not allowed to be downloaded.

"Every access provider shall ensure, within six months' time, that all smart phone devices registered on its network support the permissions required for the functioning of such apps," the regulation states. "Provided that where such devices do not permit functioning of such apps, Access Providers shall, on the order or direction of the Authority, derecognize such devices from their telecom networks."

While not directly targeting Apple, the language of the regulation effectively means that Apple must provide access to the TRAI DND 2.0 app, or else the regulator could order carriers in the country to remove iPhones from its network. As TRAI can directly regulate carriers but not device vendors, this is one of relatively few ways the regulator can try to penalize smartphone makers like Apple.

So far, Apple has been reluctant to add the Do Not Disturb app to the App Store, and while at one point the company was collaborating with the regulator, it became apparent in March that the app would not be allowed in the store at all. At the time, Apple advised the app "violates the privacy policy" of the App Store, but insisted it was working with government engineers and discussing ways the app could be designed to "keep user's personal data safe."

Under the App Store rules, third-party apps are not allowed to see call logs or text messages, but are able to access saved contacts. Apple has previously advised it would not bend its policy in this case, for the sake of user privacy.

While Apple is refusing to allow the app to be used on iPhones in the country, the same cannot be said for other smartphone producers. The Do Not Disturb app has been available to download to Android devices since 2016.

India is an important country for Apple's growth, with the iPhone SE produced in the region for sale to the local market. In June, it was reported Apple had started commercial production of a second iPhone model with local partner Wistron, with the iPhone 6s apparently destined to be sold in the country.

Despite the production efforts, Apple is apparently struggling to improve iPhone sales, and recently lost three executives working in the country.