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UIDAI, telcos & handset companies say ‘no role in appearance of Aadhaar helpline number’

NEW DELHI: The Unique Identification Authority of India, telecom operators and handset vendors said they had no role in the mysterious appearance of an outdated Aadhaar helpline number in the contact lists of phones.

UIDAI and groups representing telcos and handset makers were responding to a social media storm on Friday over the appearance of defunct UIDAI helpline number 1800-300-1947 on Android and iOS devices, with many citizens fearing a breach of privacy amid the ongoing debate around the security of the Aadhaar system.
UIDAI, which manages the country’s Aadhaar project, said in a statement that it has not asked handset makers and telecom service providers to include its toll-free number on mobile phones. It clarified that the number 1800-300-1947 that showed up in the contact lists of some phones was an outdated and invalid helpline number.
Some vested interests are trying to create unwarranted confusion, UIDAI said.
Telecom operators denied any role in the matter. The inclusion of a certain unknown number in the phonebooks of various mobile handsets “is not from any telecom service provider,” the Cellular Operators Association of India said in a statement.

There hasn’t been any mandate to us from the telecom department and Meity…UIDAI cannot in any case give us any mandate. The matter needs investigation, said Pankaj Mohindroo, Chairman of the Indian Cellular Association, which represents major handset vendors.
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Apple and Google, which run the iOS and Android operating systems, respectively, didn’t respond to ET’s queries on the matter. Goo gle “is aware of the issue and is investigating it,” a person familiar with the matter said.
Twitter users went into a tizzy after a post on Thursday by a French security expert who goes by the pseudonym Elliot Alderson and describes himself as UIDAI’s worst nightmare.
“Hi @UIDAI, 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?” Alderson’s tweet read.
If the number is added across platforms – Android and iOS – then “it has to be telcos, since it’s not a platform-specific issue… I am sure a feature phone user also has this… there Google and Apple have no role,” said Navkendar Singh, an associate director with International Data Corporation, a market advisory firm.

A senior executive at a leading telecom service provider countered the suggestion, saying such numbers can be added to phonebooks through SIM cards or over-the-air software patches.

“However, there has been no mandate from the UIDAI or the government and it is illogical on the handset companies’ part to do it together on their own,” the executive said.

UIDAI said it has “not asked or communicated to any manufacturer or service provider for providing any such facility whatsoever.”

The authority emphasised that its valid toll-free number is 1947, “which is functional for more than the last two years.”

Alderson, a vigilante hacker, was vocal during the recent Aadhaar dare thrown by Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Chairman RS Sharma and earlier revealed alleged flaws in the Aadhaar system.

Prominent personalities vented their outrage on Twitter through the day.

“Creepy! A #UIDAI helpline number now lives on my phone!!! I don’t remember putting it there! Neither did it knock! Neither did I see it come! Does this mean that anyone can plant anything on anyone’s mobile device??? Creepy-crawly this!,” brand expert Harish Bijoor tweeted on Friday.

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