Smartphone users across the country remained puzzled for hours on Friday as they found a toll-free helpline number of UIDAI saved in their phonebooks by default. With both UIDAI and the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) claiming that they are not responsible for the “privacy breach”, and smartphone manufacturers too washing their hands of the issue, the mystery surrounding the UIDAI number was only growing. The whodunit was finally solved in the evening when the “culprit” came forward and accepted involvement in the matter. It turned out to be none other than Google.
In a statement, the search engine giant accepted that it had in 2014 inadvertently coded the 112 distress number and the UIDAI number into its setup wizard for Android.
Google’s statement put to an end the controversy surrounding the mysterious entry of the UIDAI number into the contact lists of smartphone users.
“Our internal review has revealed that in 2014, the then UIDAI helpline number and the 112 distress helpline number were inadvertently coded into the SetUp wizard of the Android release given to OEMs for use in India and has remained there since. Since the numbers get listed on a user’s contact list these get transferred accordingly to the contacts on any new device,” a Google spokesperson said in the statement.
Google apologised for “any concern that this might have caused”, and said it “would like to assure everyone that this is not a situation of an unauthorised access of their Android devices”.
“We will work towards fixing this in an upcoming release of SetUp wizard, which will be made available to OEMs over the next few weeks,” said the Google spokesperson.
Social media saw a flurry of posts on Friday by people complaining about the “breach of privacy”, blaming UIDAI for the fiasco. While some people said they did not find the UIDAI helpline number, as also the distress number, in their devices, it was also reported that some brand new phone sets also had both the numbers already in the contacts.
UIDAI issued a statement saying the toll-free number 1800-300-1947 appearing in people’s contacts lists was in fact outdated and invalid. “In the wake of some media reports on default inclusion of UIDAI’s outdated & invalid Toll free no. 1800-300-1947 in contact list of Android phones. It is clarified that, UIDAI has not asked or communicated to any manufacturer or service provider for providing any such facility whatsoever,” it said in a series of tweets.
#PressStatement In the wake of some media reports on default inclusion of UIDAI’s outdated & invalid Toll free no. 1800-300-1947 in contact list of Android phones… 1/n
— Aadhaar (@UIDAI) August 3, 2018
The telecom industry too denied any role in the incident.
“The inclusion of a certain unknown number in the phonebooks of various mobile handsets is not from any telecom service provider,” the COAI said in a statement.