This comes just a couple of days after the TRAI chairman RS Shrama gave out his Aadhaar number on Twitter challenging all those who question Aadhaar data collection practices, to prove how exactly does simply having the number can be misused to cause someone harm.
The immediate response was a shower of tweets with his number mobile number, photo, residential address, date of birth, even chat threads using the information, putting the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) in question.
The UIDAI continues to be questioned. The French hacker who goes by the name of Elliot Anderson brought to people’s notice that the UIDAI’s number was being saved by default on people’s mobile phones.
“Many people, with a 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?” Anderson tweeted.
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?
— Elliot Alderson (@fs0c131y) August 2, 2018
So we made a call, of course, and upon dialing the number, which is 1800-300-1947, it is notified to be invalid. However, the number 1947, when dialed welcomes you to the Aadhaar contact center.
This raises many questions.
Who put the number on our phones?
If UIDAI is responsible, then how do they have access to enter our telephone contacts? If they added information onto our phones, does it also mean that they can collect information from it?
If UIDAI put the number, then why did they put a wrong number?
And finally, why is the correct number 1947? They probably thought it’d be cool to play on a number that stands for independence in India. They never knew they’d start sounding more like 1984, which stands for evil and totalitarianism.
One might wonder that, if you do not have an Aadhaar, it shouldn’t be on your phone. But apparently, it is. According to a tweet by a user Rachita, she doesn’t even have an Aadhaar, but the number is on her phone.
— Rachita (@visualfumble) August 2, 2018
The news publication Business Standard tried to contact UIDAI but did not hear from them.
UIDAI released a statement via Twitter on the default inclusion of UIDAI’s number saying that it was an “outdated & invalid Toll-free no. 1800-300-1947.” On the contrary, if you pull out your own Aadhaar card from your wallet, flip it over and check the toll-free number at the bottom left, it is in fact ‘1800-300-1947.’
They also denied asking or communicating with “any manufacturer or service provider for providing any such facility whatsoever.” They further clarified that the correct number is 1947, and has been functional for more than two years.
UIDAI claims that some “vested are trying to create unwarranted confusion in the public” and they stress on how they aren’t responsible for the inclusion of the number in our phones.
#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
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. 3/n — Aadhaar (@UIDAI) August 3, 2018
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.
— Aadhaar (@UIDAI) August 3, 2018
If that is true, it is a further matter of concern for us, because we don’t really have an answer for who is responsible for listing the contact on our phones.
There is a speculation, according to the Business Standard report that “the mobile manufacturers must have found the helpline number to be useful as the emergency number” and hence you find it listed in your phones, but this seems like an odd explanation because none of the common emergency numbers like women’s helpline or fire emergency are there on the phones.
The report further explains that the government would have had to issue some guidelines to phone manufacturers to download this specific number.
“A phone company is not the one making decisions as to what to load and what not to,” said Arnav Gupta, co-founder at Coding Blocks, a programming and software training institute.
If this is true, is UIDAI lying? We don’t know.
The only conclusions we can draw here are that, UIDAI is not helping itself, after already being scrutinized for Aadhaar, and that our data, of course, isn’t safe.