The Unique Identification Authority of India on Friday blamed “vested interests” after several smartphone users found that a toll-free number had been automatically saved to their contact lists. “Some vested interests are trying to create unwarranted confusion in the public,” said the authority.
The UIDAI said it had not asked any manufacturer or service provider to include the toll-free helpline number. Besides, it said, the number saved on mobile devices, 1800-300-1947, was invalid. The correct helpline number is 1947 and it has been functional for more than two years, the authority said.
A French cyber security expert, who uses the moniker Elliot Alderson, raised the matter on Twitter and asked people if they had the UIDAI number on their phones. Soon, several people confirmed it and posted screenshots. While some of them had an Aadhaar number and used the mAadhaar mobile application, many others did not. Some people said this was the case only with Android phones, but it has been reported on iOS phones too
An Android developer told Business Standard that it was unlikely that phone manufacturers the number on their own. “Every Android phone tries to connect to the internet and as soon as it does, it downloads a basic list of emergency contacts of each country,” developer Arnav Gupta said. “In India, it is distress number 112 and the UIDAI helpline.” The government would have most probably issued some guidelines to phone manufacturers to download the helpline, he said.
“I tested it with various countries’ virtual private networks and the numbers change in every country,” Gupta said. “A phone company is not the one making decisions as to what to load and what not to. Samsung devices, for instance, come with the UIDAI number out of the box and so do Airtel and Vodafone SIM cards in some cases.”
Many users have questioned the Aadhaar authority as well as mobile phone makers and service providers. Some people on Twitter raised questions about consent and privacy, while a few others criticised the conspiracy-theorists.
Here are some reactions from users on Twitter:
However, some users claimed that this was just an emergency number like the ones used for police and ambulance. “Do not think much of conspiracy theories,” a user said on Twitter.