Will caller ID apps bite the dust in India soon?

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By Shubhangi Shah

The department of telecommunications is set to come up with a mechanism that will enable the name of the caller to flash on the receiver’s mobile phone even if the number isn’t saved in the user’s contact list. Currently, we all use caller ID apps, such as Truecaller, for the same. However, the mechanisms in place are different. Such apps reportedly use crowdsourced data to show you the name of the caller. Evidently, these are not accurate all the time. The Indian government’s mechanism, on the other hand, relies on the KYC (know your customer) data that you share with your network provider to avail the services. As you might already know, these include ID proofs such as the Aadhaar card. Hence, chances are slimmer for inaccuracy.

Another advantage is that with such a mechanism in place, users will be able to evade spam calls. It is an important function as India is the fourth-most spammed country, as per a report by the Truecaller app last year. Another latest report by LocalCircles revealed that about 64% of Indians get three or more spam calls each day. And we all know how annoying it is to be inundated by unsolicited calls. This function, too, is currently performed by apps like Truecaller. Looking at these, the development seems like a welcome move. But at the same time, it casts doubt over the future of several caller ID apps currently in use in India.

Future at risk?

Do you know that India is the largest market for Truecaller? The Sweden-based company, started in 2009 by two engineers Nami Zarringhalam and Alan Mamedi, boasts of “310 million monthly active users around the world” and being “the go-to app for Caller ID and spam blocking.” Users from India account for 73% of its total users, the company revealed last year. Not just that, it went on to say that half of India’s smartphone users use Truecaller on their phones. Going through the data, it seems the company is staring at uncertainty around its business prospects in the country. Truecaller is a premier but not the only caller ID app in use. Last year, a group of Indian techies from BITS Pilani and IIM Bangalore launched BharatCaller, an app just like Truecaller but indigenous. It says on its website that the app “works similar to other apps but only has Indian engineers and makes sure that every single byte of data is stored in India.” Not just that, it is backed by the Indian government’s ‘Make In India’ and ‘Startup India’ initiatives, as per its website. Hence, the government’s bid seems to have the potential to disrupt not just the foreign caller ID apps but the indigenous ones too.

Other apps such as Showcaller, CallApp, and CallerID might meet the same fate in India.

What about privacy?

Yes, caller ID apps are handy. But, they have always garnered scepticism around privacy. It is because they have access to the users’ contact list apart from other details. What these companies do with the users’ data has always been a cause of concern.

Another thing is that although Truecaller is a caller ID app, it has somehow morphed into a digital phone directory of sorts. You just enter a name to search, and the app comes up with a list of possible contacts and their locations. A question arises, isn’t this a huge risk to privacy? Doesn’t it open a larger arena for spamming? When looking at this angle, the government’s plan seems to be a positive move. However, privacy features here too. Some organisations might not be willing to share their subscribers’ info without their consent.

Meanwhile, Truecaller has appreciated the move. “Number identification is crucial to ending the menace of spam and scam calls and we, at Truecaller, have been working tirelessly towards this important mission for the past 13 years,” it said. “We appreciate this move by TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) and would like to reiterate that we remain very supportive of this and any future initiatives they have,” the company added.

The government’s plan is currently at a nascent stage. India’s telecom regulatory body TRAI will soon float a consultation paper to get stakeholders’ comments. It has received a reference regarding this from the telecom department. Open house sessions will then happen in major cities. Only then the recommendations will be finalised. Until then, the future of caller ID apps in India remains iffy.