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Online Phone Directory Service TrueCaller Clocks 10 Million Users; Issues

Sweden-based global phone directory service TrueCaller claims to have clocked10 million users across 128 countries, since its inception in 2009. What’s particularly interesting is that TrueCaller claims that majority of its users are from India, as indicated by a GigaOm article, although there is no specific information on the number of users in India. An ET report suggests that the company had 1.6 million users in India as of June 2012, and accounted for nearly half its user base, and with the base growing to 10 million in the last seven months, we wonder how many of these are Indian. The service is currently available as a web app and offers free mobile apps for iOS, Android, Symbian (S60 / S40), BlackBerry and Windows Phone platforms.

How Does It Work?

TrueCaller allows users to look up for anonymous mobile and landline numbers on the web or on their Internet-enabled mobile phone and browse through contact information of the owner of that mobile or landline number. Besides this, it also allows users to view caller ID information of the current caller, block unwanted calls and connect their Facebook or LinkedIn account to view the latest messages from their connections.

How Does It Source Data?

As per the company FAQs, TrueCaller sources this data by partnering with various white and yellow pages globally. In addition to this, it also offers a service called ‘Enhanced Search’, which allows users to upload their entire phonebook to the service, thereby crowd-sourcing the contact data from these phonebooks. While the company notes that this is an opt-in functionality, it also states that only the users who opt-in to the feature will get access to this crowd-sourced database, with an exception of Android users who downloaded the app through Google Play. We wonder if Google has put in a limitation on the company to disable the collection of address book information.

Privacy Concerns

Considering the nature of this app, TrueCaller is bound to raise some serious privacy issues. Firstly, a person is not in control if their number is being shared on the service by one of their contact. While the service does offer an option to unlist a number, we are not sure how many people are aware that their number is already shared on the service and then go about unlisting their number on the service. For instance, I had no idea that my number was shared on the service until I checked it today.

The ET report suggested that TrueCaller had unlisted numbers of several prominent personalities including the cabinet ministers Kapil Sibal and P Chidambaram, industrialists like Mukesh Ambani and Sunil Mittal, and celebs like Shah Rukh Khan and Sachin Tendulkar, without their knowledge.

Hence, if there is a data leak of any sort from this database, it could be a privacy nightmare for these prominent personalities or anyone listed in the service. Consequentially, this leak could also cause a major setback to TrueCaller itself, if users start abandoning the app due to privacy issues. Once the company starts scaling further, it could also be quite tricky for them to maintain this database securely.

Truecaller API: As per the company’s website, TrueCaller is also planning to release an API and is currently testing it with select developers. There is currently no information on when the company plans to roll out the API publicly.

Other Players: Antarix Networks previously offered a mobile app called Socially, which offered information about where an anonymous caller was calling from, and allow users to block certain callers. The company had also tied up with Reliance Communications to offer unlimited access to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to Reliance subscribers for a subscription charge of Rs 10 per month.

However, the app was later shut down and the company focused its attentions towards their Instant Messaging app Imsy, which allowed users to send text and multimedia messages to each other as well as receive content alerts in the form of push messages from different services through 3rd party messaging bots.

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