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Monday, June 3, 2019

Daily News Roundup: TrueCaller’s Privacy Implications

TrueCaller is an app for Android and iPhone that’s useful for identifying spam cammers. When someone calls you and it turns out to be spam, you mark it that way, and anyone else using TrueCaller sees a warning.

Alternatively, you can provide the real name attached to a number if you happen to know the person who called, which makes the service a bit like a crowd-sourced phonebook you share with everyone. But it’s the shared function that has some disturbing implications.

A broadcast journalist named Chloe detailed how the app outed her and could have potentially put her in danger. Due to the sensitivity of her work, and the fact that she often travels to places hostile against journalists, she keeps a low profile. She doesn’t appear on screen, restricts her use of her social media, and so on. When she arrives in a new country, she buys a new sim card and phone number to speak with sources.

Imagine her surprise when she used her phone to call for a cab, and the cab driver asked about her job as a journalist. He showed his TrueCaller app, which identified by name and where she worked.

When she called a source, the app pinged them to tag her number with an identification. They put in her name and media outlet. That action spread her identity to anyone using TrueCaller. If the country had been hostile to journalists, she could have been in serious trouble.

The problem here is that TrueCaller doesn’t ask permission to add a person to its database. When provided information, it doesn’t reach out to the owner of number with an invite, confirmation, or even a method to check the accuracy of the information.

Imagine for a moment if every time you sent a letter to a friend, they could check a box that handed out your return address to everyone else who receives mail from the post office. It’s a similar concept.

TrueCaller has a method to unlist your phone number, but if somebody marked you number as spam (a distinct possibility with RoboCalls), you can’t use it. For most people, the way TrueCaller handles other’s people data without consent may not be a huge issue. But for anyone who needs anonymity—or just likes their privacy—it could potentially be a huge problem.

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