Google did not ‘inadvertently’, as it claimed, store UIDAI helpline number into your phone devices but, it seems, it had acted on the directive of the Manmohan Singh government. According to a letter issued on August 8, 2013, the Department of Telecommunications had instructed all the telecom companies to map short code ‘1947’ to UIDAI’s toll free number – a move that put the nation in a great confusion five years later.
“All telecom providers are directed to take necessary action to map short code 1947 to new toll free number 1800-300-1947 with immediate effect and send the compliance report to UIDAI directly,” the Ministry, which was headed by Kapil Sibbal, had said in its letter.
However, Google in its response yesterday said that the coding had happened ‘inadvertently’, without elaborating it further.
In a statement issued on Friday, Google said: “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 (Original equipment manufacturers) 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.”
While the directive did not directly instruct Google – the company that owns the Android operating system – but the timing of the letter to telecom operators and Google incorporating the UIDAI helpline number is suspicious.
The whole controversy began after certain mobile phone users found and objected to UIDAI’s helpline number in their contact list without their consent – suggesting possible breach of privacy.
A French security expert who goes under the pseudonym Elliot Alderson tweeted: “Hi @UIDAI, Many people, with different provider, with and without an #Aadhaar card, with and without the mAadhaar app installed, noticed that your phone number is predefined in their contact list by default and so without their knowledge. Can you explain why?”
The UIDAI later clarified that it had not asked or communicated to any manufacturer or service provider for providing any such facility whatsoever. It said: “UIDAI emphasised that the said 18003001947 is not a valid UIDAI Toll free number and some vested interest are trying to create unwarranted confusion in the public. UIDAI’s valid Toll free number is 1947 which is functional for more than the last two years.”
The UIDAI further reiterated that it has not asked or advised anyone including any telecom service providers or mobile manufacturers or Android to include 1800-300-1947 or 1947 in the default list of public service numbers. The fact that the helpline issue that made UIDAI into a villain actually originated in the previous Congress-led UPA-II regime.