SIM registration ‘fails’ to protect consumers

PURPOSE. SIM registration is supposed to help protect consumers from identity theft and unauthorized use of their mobile numbers. It ensures that the person using a particular mobile number is the legitimate owner, reducing the risk of fraudulent activities.
PURPOSE. SIM registration is supposed to help protect consumers from identity theft and unauthorized use of their mobile numbers. It ensures that the person using a particular mobile number is the legitimate owner, reducing the risk of fraudulent activities.SunStar File

BOGART, not his real name, saw the SIM (subscriber identity module) registration important for various reasons — security and consumer protection.

But somehow the processes and requirements involved are not entirely user-friendly for all Filipinos to which Globe and Smart have promised to further improve.

“SIM registration is good in principle, yet detached to the realities on the ground,” the 32-year-old young professional said.

SIM registration emerged as the most searched topic in the Philippines in 2023, according to Google. This was followed by “precinct finder,” “persona non grata,” “Nipah virus,” “War in Israel and Gaza,” “lato-lato,” “Typhoon Egay update,” “Taal Volcano update,” “Turkey earthquake,” and “MoCa Farm.”

The SIM Registration Act was signed into law by President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. on Oct. 10, 2022. On Dec. 27 that year, the 180-day SIM registration began and was supposed to end on April 26, 2023. It was later expanded for another 90 days or until July 25.

Although the registration was easy for Bogart since he’s a postpaid subscriber, he heard stories from friends, who are prepaid subscribers who went through difficulty in the documentary requirements. He also said retailers would find ways to circumvent the process, such as using fake IDs, among others.

Despite its implementation, Bogart said he continues to receive scams and spam messages. The most recent one he received was a text message last Nov. 6 purportedly from PHLPost, urging him to click on a link to access package details.

For Bogart, the SIM registration failed to deliver its promise of protecting consumer data.

Data from the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) showed that as of Oct. 17, Globe registered 58,194,995 SIMs. Smart, on the other hand, logged 55,338,557 SIMs as of Sept. 24. Third player Dito logged 9,146,463 SIMs.

Impact to business

Darius Delgado, head of Globe’s Consumer Mobile Business, said the SIM registration process weeded out inactive SIMs from Globe’s subscriber base.

“Since then, we have been seeing higher quality acquisitions, with subscribers actively using our services,” he said, in an email interview. “We’ve observed increased reloads and consistently rising data use.”

Globe’s mobile data traffic, according to Delgado, surged significantly to 4,360 petabytes in the third quarter of 2023, with higher consumption of video and social media content. Globe has also observed an increase in its average revenue per user for mobile, notably within the prepaid and TM brands, following the SIM registration mandate.

This contributed to total mobile revenue of P83.2 billion as of the end of September 2023, a three percent growth year-on-year and a new record high.

Meanwhile, with the mandated SIM registration, PLDT/Smart was able to regain its leadership as the mobile network with the largest subscriber base at 55.2 million (as of November). Globe during the same month had 54.7 million subscribers.

“The subscriber numbers have grown ahead of Globe but our revenues are still behind Globe. So there’s a big task ahead on the revenue side,” said PLDT chairman Manuel Pangilinan, during the group’s third-quarter media briefing on Nov. 7, 2023.

“I don’t think the battle should be on the subscriber numbers… the game is on your ability to grow the market,” he added.

Rise of scam, spam messages

SIM registration helps protect consumers from identity theft and unauthorized use of their mobile numbers. It ensures that the person using a particular mobile number is the legitimate owner, reducing the risk of fraudulent activities.

Globe observed a rise in spam and scam messages in OTT (over-the-top) media services or chat apps, which, according to Delgado are outside the scope of telcos.

“These messages are not SIM-based and do not pass through the Globe network, hence we have no control over these spam and scam messages,” he said.

But lawmakers have crafted a bill dubbed the “Do-Not-Call, Do-Not-Text” bill, which aims to address the problem of spam or unwanted text messages or calls.

Delgado said that since all unregistered SIMs were deactivated following the July 2023 deadline, the scams that persist may have been obtained from the black market of SIMs registered with false identities.

He said there is also a market for selling or loaning legitimately registered SIMs to be used as “mules” by criminals. Following the post-validation of the SIM register database, Delgado said these numbers will also be deactivated sooner or later.

Like Globe, rival telco Smart is also intensifying its efforts to combat text scams amid the spread of spam or unsolicited text messages that contain the names of subscribers.

Lawyer Roy Ibay, vice president and head of regulatory affairs of Smart Communications Inc., said Smart is exerting all its efforts to fight text scams including the deactivation of SIMs, blocking of P2P SMS messages containing links, blocking access/ attempts to access malicious domains, educating our subscribers, and coordinating with competent authorities and/or law enforcement agencies.

PLDT Inc. and Smart Communications blocked more than 5.5 million spam messages in September alone. It also blacklisted 21,000 mobile numbers engaged in scams and fraudulent activities.

On Sept. 27, 2023, the NTC revised a memo instructing telcos “to block or deactivate text messages containing clickable domains, URLs, URL shortening services links, Smart Links, and QR Codes.”

Meanwhile, to make SIM registration user-friendly to all, Ibay said Smart is in the process of building and developing the technical solutions needed to implement the improvements in the SIM registration processes including enhanced verification mechanisms.

“We are committed to delivering said enhancements this December under NTC’s memo. In addition, we are in talks with the Department of Information and Communications Technology regarding the integration of their eKYC platform to help us validate the identity of registrants,” Ibay said.

eKYC stands for “Electronic Know Your Customer.” It is a technology-driven process that allows businesses and organizations to verify the identity of their customers electronically.

“With these measures, scammers won’t be able to mass register SIMs and use fake identities and documents for scamming, spamming, etc. thereby reducing the risk of fraudulent activities and ensuring that telecommunication services are used responsibly,” Ibay said.

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