If you are not aware, TrueCaller is an app for iOS, Android, Windows and Symbian based mobile phones. Developed by a Swedish company called True Software Scandinavia AB, TrueCaller is a reverse lookup App which also serves as a caller ID with global coverage.
Once users download TrueCaller on their compatible devices, they have the option of giving the app access to their own phone book contacts (This generally happens during the app install itself and many users unknowingly approve access to it). Once installed, it reads through entire phonebook of the user and then sends the contact phone numbers (along with names) to TrueCaller’s servers and stored securely.
Users who have the app installed on their devices can then perform reverse lookups on virtually any phone number in the world. If the number has been sucked up into TrueCaller’s servers, the app will return the request, giving details of the owner of the number including name, address and possibly even social networks and pictures.
TrueCaller does not stop at being just a reverse lookup app. It also serves as a global caller ID and displays details even for the numbers that are not in an individual user’s phonebook. As an illustrative example based on available information from the company’s website, suppose a person using TrueCaller app receives a phone call from a number which is not in his/her phone’s contact list. If the phone number is in TrueCaller’s database, it will display the name and other available details.
Skeptics who doubt the coverage of this app should know that there are more than 16 lakh mobile phone users in India who use TrueCaller, as per its CEO Alan Mamedi and ET. In other words, 16 lakh phone books in their entirety have potentially been uploaded on TrueCaller’s database. While no clear statistics of exactly how many Indian phone numbers are present in the company’s database, it would possibly be massive and fairly comprehensive (surely few crore phone numbers…) .
TrueCaller’s footprint goes much beyond Indian shores. The app itself supports users from all countries and virtually any user who has internet access. The TrueCaller website mentions that it hardly takes 1 KB of data to process one reverse lookup request.
From the perspective of an individual user, an advantage of using TrueCaller is that telemarketing and other unwanted calls can be avoided via the app’s comprehensive caller ID. However this method of ‘crowdsourcing data’ could pose threats to privacy of millions of mobile users in India and across the world.
According to a recent ET report, the TrueCaller database has numbers of many VIPs and official heads of states. It mentions “The mobile numbers of nearly every Indian Cabinet minister, heads of intelligence agencies such as the Intelligence Bureau and Department of Revenue Intelligence, and CEOs of India’s largest companies are all on the database.”
Claims of ‘breach of privacy’ are not totally unfound as users are complaining of the fact that their numbers have been listed on TrueCaller’s database without their knowledge or permission. TrueCaller gives owners of telephone numbers an option to de-list their numbers from its database via a link on its website. But the question on the minds of many is “Should mobile phone numbers be publicly available? Shouldn’t a company ask the owner before listing their number, rather than the owner having to request a removal?”
Like most other companies dealing with sensitive data, TrueCaller claims to have systems and manpower in place to protects its serves and their database. However it is hard to ignore security threats, especially when giants like LinkedIn, Sony Playstation and many other high profile organizations and even top government agencies fall prey to hackers.
Currently, Twitter is abuzz with tweets about this app. While one user praises it by saying “TrueCaller is stalker’s nightmare“, many others are voicing out privacy concerns. One user tweeted “This can’t be good. Raises privacy concerns for normal users” while another said “If u load TrueCaller to your phone & allow it to ‘securely send ur contacts to our server’ Privacy for all your contacts is Breached!”