As I have already made clear in a previous post, there is little that I find more annoying than, at the end of a particularly stressful workday, being bothered by unrequested telemarketing or spam phone calls. And while I understand that, on the other side of the line, there is a person acting under the direct orientation – and possibly supervision – of his/her employer, these calls most always seem a resistance test for one’s patience.
Therefore, mobile software or applications enabling the prior identification of certain numbers, by replicating the Caller ID experience (as if the contact number was saved in your contact list) or allowing for the automatic blocking of undesirable calls have found here a market to succeed.
Thus said, you might have certainly heard of and possibly installed apps such as Current Caller ID, WhosCall or Truecaller. Most probably, you find them quite useful in order to avoid unwanted contacts.
As I have, for several occasions, unlisted my contact from the Truecaller database, but keep noticing that it eventually ends up being integrated in that list all over again, I want to address today some specific issues regarding that app.
Truecaller is freely available on iOS and Android platforms and is quite efficient in regards of what it promises, providing its subscribers a humongous database of previously identified contacts. In particular, it enables users to identify, without being required to hang up to that end, spam callers.
This efficiency is the result of the data provided by the millions of users who have downloaded the app on their smartphones.
Well, it suffices that users allow for the app to access his/her contacts list as foreseen in the end user agreement, which might not have been read by many. Once this consent has been obtained, the information of the contacts book is uploaded to the Truecaller’s servers and made available to the rest of its subscribers.
According to this crowd-sourced data system, you are able to identify unknown numbers.
Therefore it suffices that another user has marked a given contact as spam for you to be able to immediately identify a caller as such and save yourself from the patience consuming contact. Indeed, and quite undoubtedly, if a number qualified as unwanted by others call you, the screen of your Smartphone will turn red and present the image of shady figure wearing a fedora and sunglasses.
On the down side, if anybody has saved your contact number and name in their address book, if suffices that one person has installed the Truecaller app on their mobile phone and subscribed the abovementioned permission clause, for your contact number and name to end up in that database.
A new interface enables users to add information from their social media channels. Therefore, besides your contacts information, if users do activate the use of third parties social network services, such as Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn or Twitter, Truecaller may upload, store and use the list of identifiers associated with those services linked to your contacts in order to enhance the results shared with other users.
Moreover, it has recently been updated to introduce a search function, thus enabling you to search for any phone number and find any person’s contact.
In the same line, Facebook – which is only the largest social network – has decided to give new uses for the amount of data its users provide with the app Facebook Hello. In that regard, users are required to grant it access to the information contained in their Facebook account. Indeed, Hello uses Facebook’s database to provide details of a caller. Contrastingly, other apps such as Contacts+ integrate information provided in different social networks.
While it is undeniably useful to identify the person behind the unknown numbers, this means that the same others will be able to identify you when you contact them, even if they do not have your number.
Truecaller raises several privacy and data protection concerns. In fact, as names and telephone contacts actually enable the adequate identification of natural individuals, there is no doubt that such information actually constitutes personal data.
Nevertheless, in Truecaller’s own words:
“When you install and use the Truecaller Apps, Truecaller will collect, process and retain personal information from You and any devices You may use in Your interaction with our Services. This information may include the following: geo-location, Your IP address, device ID or unique identifier, device type, ID for advertising, ad data, unique device token, operating system, operator, connection information, screen resolution, usage statistics, version of the Truecaller Apps You use and other information based on Your interaction with our Services.”
This is particularly problematic considering that Trucaller collects and processes clearly and manifestly the personal data of other data subjects besides of its users.
As for the information related to other persons, it is said:
This statement is, in my very modest opinion, absolutely ludicrous. Most people who have installed the service are not even aware how it works, let alone that an obligation of notifying an entire contacts list and obtaining individual consent impends upon them. In this context, it is paramount to have into consideration that, in the vast majority of cases, from the users’ viewpoint, the data at stake is collected and processed merely for personal purposes. Moreover, consent is usually defined as “any freely given specific and informed indication of his wishes by which the data subject signifies his agreement to personal data relating to him being processed.”
This basically amounts as saying that non-users do not have any control over their personal data as the sharing of their contact identification and phone number will depend on how many friends actually install Truecaller.
It is evident that Truecaller has no legal permission to process any personal data from non-users of its service. These non-users are data subjects who most certainly have not unambiguously given their consent, the processing is not necessary for the performance of a contract in which the data subject is party, and no legal obligation nor vital interests nor the performance of a task carried out in the public interest are at stake.
In this regard, the possibility provided to those who do not wish to have their names and phone numbers made available through the enhanced search or name search functionalities to exclude themselves from further queries by notifying Truecaller is not even realistic. To begin with, one is required to be aware of the existence of the service and, subsequently, is required to actively seek if his/her contact is on its directory and then to require Truecaller to be unlisted from its database. However, considering all my failed attempts, I am not sure if this option is only available to users or if this simply does not prevent to be added again to the service’s database once another user having the relevant contact on his address book actually allows for such access.
Last, but not the least, and this should not really constitute any surprise, Truecaller has already been hacked in the past by a Syrian hacking group, which resulted in the unauthorized access to some (personal) data of users and non-users. This surely highlights the importance of users carefully choosing the services with whom they entrust their – and others – personal data.
All considering, Truecaller is the obvious practical example of the statement: ‘If You’re Not Paying For It, You Are the Product Being Sold’.