People aghast as UIDAI helpline number mysteriously appears in phonebooks (Roundup)
New Delhi : A large section of smartphone users in India woke up puzzled on Friday as a toll-free helpline number of UIDAI was saved in their phonebooks by default. Soon questions about privacy concerns started trending on social media, prompting the UIDAI as well as the telcom operators to deny any involvement on their part.
Amid several explanations for the phenomenon -- including installed Adhaar app, phone number linked with Adhaar, pre-saved number on the SIM cards -- the mystery remained as both the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) as well as the telecom operators washed their hand of the issue.
While the telecom industry denied any role in the strange incident, the UIDAI said that some vested interests were trying to create "unwarranted confusion" in the public and clarified that it had not asked any manufacturer or telecom service provider to provide any such facility.
As the day passed, #UIDAI was trending on Twitter with several smartphone users posting screenshots of the saved number and questioning the government, UIDAI and their mobile service providers about who was responsible for pushing the number on their phones without their consent.
"How the hell this got into my phone book? If you can do this, then you can read and monitor my activities," a user tweeted with a screenshot of the saved number.
"This is no joke as it is on my phone too. I didn't save this number. Check your phone asap, feeling worried.
"UIDAI.. how dare you push your contact information into my contacts without my permission? Please fire the guys who are in decision making level in that stupid organisation," said another tweet.
The controversy started when a French security expert, Elliot Alderson, asked UIDAI on Twitter: "Many people, with different providers, with and without an # Aadhaar card, with and without the Aadhaar app installed, noticed that your phone number is predefined in their contact list by default without their knowledge. Can you explain why?"
Many users later joined in the conversation sharing screenshots of the phone number appearing on their own phones.
"Well, it's true! #UIDAI helpline number got into my phone book magically. They are snooping on us just like NSA in America?" a Twitter user said.
The UIDAI said that the default toll-free number -- 1800-300-1947 -- being reported to have been included in the contact list of Android phones was outdated and invalid.
"UIDAI's valid toll free number is 1947 which is functional for more than the last two years... UIDAI has not asked or communicated to any manufacturer or service provider for providing any such facility whatsoever," an official statement said.
It emphasised that the said number was not a valid UIDAI toll free number and some vested interests were trying to create unwarranted confusion in the public.
"UIDAI has reiterated that it has not asked or advised anyone including any telecom service providers or mobile manufacturers or Android to include 18003001947 or 1947 in the default list of public service numbers," it added.
Aam Aadmi Party leader Ankit Lal said he too had the number saved on his phone and he never did it himself.
"UIDAI says it's not valid helpline number. Yet that number is on all Aadhaar cards. Someone's corporate communication is really messing up things," Lal said in a tweet.
Denying its role in the incident, the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) said: "The inclusion of a certain unknown number in the phonebooks of various mobile handsets is not from any telecom service provider."
Telecom companies, however, declined to comment on the matter and said that COAI's stand is the uniform stand of the industry.
Twitter was abuzz again with the new development after a huge uproar due to Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) Chairman R.S. Sharma's open Aadhaar challenge to critics and hackers.
Sharma made a tweetstorm by sharing his 12-digit Aadhaar number on July 28.
Ethical hackers exposed at least 14 personal details of the TRAI Chairman, including mobile numbers, home address, date of birth, PAN number and voter ID among others.