UIDAI Aadhaar helpline number in people’s contacts: Google admits it is to blame

UIDAI Aadhaar Card Helpline Number: Google has accepted that it had in 2014 inadvertently coded the 112 distress number and the UIDAI number into its setup wizard for Android.

Written by Shruti Dhapola , Nandagopal Rajan | New Delhi | Updated: August 6, 2018 12:28:48 pm

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Hours after the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) denied that it forced any smartphone manufacturer or telecom service provider to add a helpline number into people’s contact lists, Google accepted that it had in 2014 inadvertently coded the 112 distress number and the UIDAI number into its setup wizard for Android. This in a way put to end the controversy surrounding the mysterious entry of the UIDAI number in the contact lists of many smartphone users around the country.

“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,” a statement from Google said.

Apologising for “any concern that this might have caused”, the statement from a Google spokesperson said it “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.”

The statement said Google will work towards fixing this in an “upcoming release of SetUp wizard which will be made available to OEMs over the next few weeks”.

Interestingly, a few OEMs that indianexpress.com spoke to on Friday said they had no idea how the number had crept into devices. One of them, a manufacturer of Android devices, categorically said they have never added any number to their devices.

Indianexpress.com checked two brand new Android devices, one of which has not even been launched in India, and found both the UIDAI number as well as the distress number already in the contacts. However, not all phones we checked had the number.

Despite the Google statement, one question everyone is asking is how the number is then showing up on Apple phones. This can be attributed to the fact that most users have their Apple phones sycned to Gmail accounts which might have used Android devices at some point.

With a simple search on Google Contacts we also found the UIDIA email, though no mail had ever been sent to the said address – help@uidai.gov.in. This email ID has been synced in April 2014, corroborating Google’s statement. 

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On another Gmail account, which had been used only for testing brand new phones, we found just three numbers synced. The distress number, the UIDAI number and the customer care number of one of Micromax, one of the devices tested on this account in the past.

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Earlier, in a statement that it tweeted, UIDAI said that the toll-free number 1800-300-1947 appearing in people’s contacts lists was outdated and invalid. “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. It is clarified that, UIDAI has not asked or communicated to any manufacturer or service provider for providing any such facility whatsoever,” the tweet said.

Read more: Don’t make your Aadhaar number public, urges UIDAI while warning of consequences

The statement added, “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.” The official helpline number for Aadhaar is 1947, which has been functional for the last two years. The Aadhaar-body maintains it has not asked any Android manufacturer or telecom company to add the same to users’ contacts list.

We found the UIDAI helpline number in the contacts list of an iPhone 8 and iPhone X. However, we could not find the helpline number on other devices like the iPhone 7, Mi A1, etc.

Read more: A defence without Aadhaar 

Earlier, multiple people had tweeted about finding a number for UIDAI in their contacts list despite not having added it or giving explicit permission.

Check out some tweets below, including from UIDAI clarifying on the helpline number:

Indianexpress.com contacted network provider Vodafone, who denied they had pushed this number. A spokesperson for Airtel wasn’t immediately available for comment. Users who find the contact number on their list can delete the number if they want to. Remember, this is not an official helpline number.

The UIDAI helpline, a toll-free number, remains 1947, and not the one that has mysteriously appeared on phones.

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