Mystery surrounding UIDAI helpline number ends as Google admits to adding it in Android

Mystery surrounding UIDAI helpline number ends as Google admits to adding it in Android
Photo Credit: Reuters
4 Aug, 2018

The mystery surrounding the entry of the UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India) helpline number in phone contact lists has finally unravelled, with Google apologising for accidentally adding it to the Android version given to Indian manufacturers in 2014.

"The then UIDAI helpline number and the 112 distress helpline number were inadvertently coded into the SetUp wizard," Google said. "Users can manually delete the number from their devices. We will work towards fixing this in an upcoming release of the SetUp wizard, which will be made available to OEMs (original equipment makers) over the next few weeks," it added.

On Friday, people took to Twitter and other social media platforms after several media reports suggested that many had just seen the UIDAI helpline number magically added to the phone. The issue was quick to spark controversy that how any organisation could add a number to a phone without the user's consent. All this comes at a time when the draft privacy Bill has been released. 

The UIDAI was quick to deny any role in the incident and sent out a statement on Friday afternoon: "In the wake of some media reports on default inclusion of the UIDAI’s outdated and invalid toll-free number 1800-300-1947 on the contact list of Android phones, it is clarified that the UIDAI has not asked or communicated to any manufacturer or service provider for providing any such facility whatsoever (as a pre-loaded number)." 

It also tweeted that it had not asked any telco or handset-maker to add the number.

TechCircle reached out to handset-makers Samsung and Xiaomi, which didn't comment on the issue. Apple said it was investigating the matter.

Mobile operators Airtel and Vodafone both said they were looking into the matter, but made it clear they had no role to play in the incident. Later on Friday,

Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) issued the following statement: “The inclusion of a certain unknown number in the phonebooks of various mobile handsets is not from any telecom service provider.”

Even so, some iPhone users were still trying to figure out how the number got into their phones, which didn’t run on the Android OS. The explanation is simple. The number got added to the Google account as a contact and was synced to iPhones later as the device was set up by the user.

"Since the numbers get listed on a user’s contact list, these get transferred accordingly to the contacts on any new device," a Google spokesperson explained.