Android phone users were shocked last week by the presence of a Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) helpline number in the contact list. Frightened by WhatsApp forwards warning them of a breach of privacy, scores of smartphone holders deleted the number and ranted on Twitter.
Although experts have clarified that the uploading of a contact number, that too from UIDAI, doesn’t cause harm, yet the issue has reignited the debate over the security of data of Aadhaar cardholders.
Here in 10 points is everything you need to know about the controversy over the Aadhaar helpline number:
1. The controversy began after a French security expert, who goes by the pseudonym Elliot Alderson on Twitter, flagged off the presence of the UIDAI toll-free number 1800-300-1947 in the contact list of Android smartphone users. This sparked a flurry of tweets and WhatsApp messages.
2. Rumours spread fast that Android mobile phone data had been hacked and privacy of mobile phone users compromised by the insertion of the new number.
3. To quell rumours, UIDAI issued a statement saying that no one can steal data by just by adding a helpline number in a mobile’s contact list. It asked people not to panic and said no harm to anyone has been done.
4. Describing instances of people being asked to delete UIDAI helpline numbers as “totally false propaganda", UIDAI said vested interests were trying to scare people.
5. The French hacker, who has been running an anti-Aadhaar campaign on Twitter, changed his name to—Elliot Alderson aka “Vested Interest"—in retort to UIDAI’s statement.
6. It was later brought to notice that the toll-free number found in mobile phones is no longer in use by UIDAI, which replaced it with a new number—1947— two years ago. It said people can simply delete the number from their list or update it with the new number if they wish to.
7. The French expert said there was no need to panic as the number was just a contact, but he was alarmed that it could be the tip of “an iceberg".
8. At first, UIDAI clarified that it did not ask anyone to include the number in mobile phones and then mobile phone service providers denied any involvement.
9. The mystery was solved when Google issued a statement saying the helpline number was inadvertently coded into the setup wizard of Android phones in 2014 and remained there. Apologising for the error, Google said it will fix it in the next release of the setup wizard that will be made available over the next few weeks.
10. The row has sparked a fresh debate over the privacy of users’ data after Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) chairman R.S. Sharma challenged hackers to harm him by using his Aadhaar data. UIDAI had afterwards warned people not to post their Aadhaar numbers on social media.