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10

At around 830 pm on Monday, Nov. 21, my phone was stolen from me. The incident occurred at the crowded Saket Metro bus stop, while I was inside a feeder bus and the thief outside a window. By the time I could get off the bus and chase him, he had disappeared in the crowd. I looked around for a while before returning home, determined to do all I legally and possibly could in such a case, but feeling hopeless and dejected.

Primary concern, ensuring security

I filed an e-FIR, used Android Device Manager to try and locate the phone, placed a request to erase data with the Manager as well as my office IT service center. I knew that I had logged out of banking apps and they could not be accessed without MPins, but the PayTM app had login details saved. So I tried to lock my PayTM account via their website. Shocker: to verify my login they needed me to enter, apart from my e-mail/phone number and password, an OTP which I could only receive via SMS or call. I wondered why they could not e-mail me the OTP as well, which is standard practice in 2-factor authentication. I then used their customer care page to request a block on my account. I received an acknowledgement of this request almost instantly, (940 pm, Nov. 21, query #10133775). However, I received no reply, so I took to Twitter (1159 pm, Nov. 21):

Next morning, I see no response to my e-mail, but see this response to the tweet (735 am, Nov. 22):

So I sent them another e-mail request which was again acknowledged (0904 am, Nov. 22, query #10152004). Again, no reply, even by the evening, so I reply to their tweet:

This tweet, unsurprisingly, did not get any response. In the meanwhile, I had not only got a replacement SIM card from Airtel, but also had the SIM cards activated within the estimated time of 4-6 hours, despite being told that there may be a further delay as my number had been barred due to filing the FIR. I was thus able to receive the OTP now via the on call option (SMS services took a further 24 hours, as estimated, to get reactivated), and logged into PayTM.

It took me less than five minutes to change my password, and also log myself out of all devices. But I had to wait nearly a full day to do it because of the infuriating lack of response from PayTM. Compare this with the speed of transactions on PayTM. If you had to wait 22 hours for your PayTM wallet to be recharged, or if PayTM took 22 hours to pay your Uber cab fare, they would not remain in business very long, would they? So why do they assume they can take their own sweet time about customer service?

I quickly used up the balance in my PayTM wallet in order to close the account. I waited for a day to ensure those transactions did come through, and then tried closing my account this evening. Surprise, surprise. There is no option on the site to close your account, not even among their myriad customer care options. My requesting customer care to do so got me the no-less-surprising response that "Paytm account cannot be deleted, but we can block it for you please help us with the mail form your registered email id stating the same." Bank accounts can be closed, social media accounts can be deleted (I just deleted my WhatsApp account this evening, in under 5 minutes), but a PayTM account cannot be deleted. Why is this so?

Again, for a digital service, PayTM's frankly ridiculous, repetitive insistence on e-mail confirmation is nothing short of painful, especially given that there is NO guarantee your e-mail will actually merit a response from them, as so amply demonstrated by this experience.

Update: @Paytmcare chose to respond to this story via both tweet (0242am, Nov. 24) and e-mail (0615am, Nov. 24). The tweet asked me to check my email with reference to the request for closing my account (query #10291894). Only, their reply was to my e-mail of Nov. 22 (query #10152004). Not only did they get this mixed up, their response was on how I could get a new mobile number updated in my account while my old number was inaccessible - whereas my query had been about blocking my account. At this point, I could only conclude that PayTM's customer care is, in addition to being poorly managed, is also poorly trained to respond to customer queries. And yes, PayTM has not yet confirmed that my account has been blocked, as of 0925am, Nov. 25.

For those interested, I have Storified the full exchange with @Paytmcare on Twitter, and my tweetstorm on the overall experience, here:

https://storify.com/godavar/a-misadventure-in-digital-dystopia-my-paytm-story

P.S. the image for this post is a fully deliberate reminder of the fact that PayTM chose to be cheerleaders for the disastrous #demonetization in India.

 

19

Would it be possible to create some kind of network of wifi receptors all over the city? Or use an existing network (Tikona, for example) to scan for distress signals from phones or other devices? The range of a wifi being relatively small, it shouldn't be too complicated to mark a fairly accurate area to dispatch cops.

This is the hardware.

The software will be on multiple levels.

On the user's end, it can be a simple phone application. Or it can be an alarm installed in a building or it can be sent from a laptop or other computer. When an alarm is triggered, basic information on location if any from the device GPS, phone number and the call for help should be broadcast from wireless, as well as SMS. It should continue to broadcast periodically on wireless as well as send SMS if any information changes (location, phone number, whatever). The phone must automatically start recording audio and switch to silent mode.

The application in all its forms should have the ability to pick a distress signal and communicate information to the police - or, in the absence of both phone and internet connectivity, bounce the signal further and enhance its reach. It should relay any return signal back as well in a similar manner. In this manner, all available wifi enabled phones could be used to support the police network.

On the police end, receiving a signal should result in the police network being informed and dispatched as per their protocols - treating it like a phone call to the police line with address information attached. The operator must attempt to call and confirm the emergency. This call May or may not be picked by the person depending on circumstances.

Police vans must have wifi capabilities of smaller range, to be able to further narrow down the location.

Such a solution should not be too difficult to design. Wifi capabilities exist as well as mesh networking research. This will not need anything major. In fact, the more primitive, the less open to exploitation.

Such a system also has fewer chances of misuse, as it will be designed to transmit all possible personally identifying and locating information. This would be scalable as well as reproducible in other parts of India.

Basic networks once established could aid in all kinds of things.

Will refine the idea as needed, but what do you think? Good idea?