On Friday, Thousands of smartphone users got spooked out on Twitter, when they discovered the presence of a mysterious number in their contacts list.
The number, 1800-300-1947, was saved under the name ‘UIDAI’ and is the toll-free helpline of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), the statutory body in charge of Aadhaar. But what triggered confusion was the fact that it had entered people’s phone books without their kowledge and consent.
‘Panic on Twitter’
It all started when a French security expert, Robert Baptiste, who goes by the pseudonym, Elliot Alderson asked a simple question on Twitter .
“Do you have @UIDAI in your contact list by default?” he tweeted on Thursday. When a flood of replies confirmed that they did, he tweeted again, “I’m thinking aloud: What if it is only the top of the iceberg?”
Users began posting screenshots of their contacts list with the number and sought for an explanations from @UIDAI on how it got added to their phones without their consent. “So, the #UIDAI is automatically a contact in my phone-book. Creepy much…?,” a user tweeted.
The UIDAI, service providers, and handset providers responded to the question on Twitter and denied all responsibility.
UIDAI even tweeted that “some vested interest are trying to create unwarranted confusion in the public”.
The mystery of how the number got entered into users’ contacts list was later resolved when Google owned up to it.
“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 [Original Equipment Manufacturers] 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,” clarified by a Google spokesperson.
“We 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,” he said, adding that this issue would be fixed in the upcoming version of SetUp wizard.