Google Deactivates RCS Ads in Response to Widespread Spamming by Businesses in India

Following accusations of spamming by corporations, Google has prohibited businesses from using Rich Communication Services (RCS) for promotion in India, the company’s largest market by users, in a setback for the standard that the company is expecting to help become the future of SMS messaging.

In recent years, Google, Samsung and a number of other companies, including telecom providers, have rolled out RCS capability to hundreds of millions of users across the world. RCS is the result of a collaboration between a number of industry players to enhance classic SMS with new features like richer texts and end-to-end encryption.

Sanaz Ahari, the director of product management for Android Messages, said in 2019, the company’s ambition for RCS was “a great, simple user experience that just works for every Android user” and since then it has come a long way.

However, in May, Google announced that RCS texting in Android Messages app had surpassed 500 million monthly active users. At the same time, during the tech giant’s developer conference, it asked any smartphone operating system (a dig at Apple) to integrate RCS, which is also geared at enabling businesses to reach out to users in a more participatory way.

But the issue is that a lot of Indian enterprises, including big banks and other lending institutions, have been reportedly misusing the function to send unsolicited promotional materials to any phone number they can discover across the country.

Kaori Miyake, head of product communications, Android and Google Play, told The Verge recently: “We are aware that some businesses are abusing our anti-spam policies to send promotional messages to users in India. We are disabling this feature in India while we work with the industry to improve the experience for users.”

The ads in question were sent to customers via RCS’ business messaging feature, which allows verified firms to send messages to customers that include graphics and interactive features, in addition to text.

However, a number of users took to Twitter to express their dissatisfaction. It was noticed that even if the Spam Protection function is enabled, users have been reporting receiving many ads per day, and blocking and reporting the offender accounts does not appear to prevent adverts from different companies from surfacing.

It was also reported that ads for personal loans, gambling firms and life insurance appear to be among the worst offenders. Examples include sending customers QR-code tickets or allowing them to place online orders. Additionally, reports revealed that some accounts labelled “Verified Business” by Google are bombarding users in India with advertisements.

The concerns seem to have reached Google as the tech giant said it is disabling the feature as it “works with the industry to improve the experience for users”.

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