Why is there a helpline number of UIDAI, the agency that looks after Aadhaar project, in people’s phones? The mystery has been solved. It’s not because the number has been included in the SIM card by telecom providers, or because UIDAI directed phone companies to put it in their phones or due to some mumbo-jumbo someone, somewhere in the government did. It is in Android phones because Google included it in 2014 in the Android operating system supplied to Indian phone companies.
After much brouhaha over the UIDAI helpline number — 1800-300-1947 — that Android phone users found mysteriously added into their contacts, Google has clarified that it is because the number was included in Android in 2014.
“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,” said a Google spokesperson.
Given how much heat the issue has generated, especially on social media and among tech savvy users who have called the inclusion of the number on their phones without any explicit permission creepy, Google also said sorry for it.
“We are sorry for any concern that this might have caused, and would like to assure everyone that this is not a situation of an unauthorised access of their Android devices. Users can manually delete the number from their devices,” said the company spokesperson.
Next Google shopping to get rid of the number, which is anyway defunct now according to UIDAI. “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,” says the spokesperson.
Earlier, after people started finding the UIDAI helpline number saved in their phones, a number of conspiracy theories floated on social media. Many said that UIDAI had forced phone makers to put the number in phones sold in India, while some other believed that the number was coming into the phones through the standard phone numbers saved in almost all SIM cards sold in the country.
Later UIDAI said that it had nothing to do with its helpline number appearing in Android phones. “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,” the agency had said in a statement. “It is 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.”
Turns out the concerns of both tech savvy users, who found the helpline number an intrusion on their privacy, and UIDAI that saw “vested interests” in the whole affair were misplaced. It was Google, the maker of Android operating system, that inserted the number into the phone software. Hopefully, now that the company has acknowledged the issue, the next version of Android will probably not have this issue.