The unfailing regularity with which controversies stalk Aadhaar is not funny. The latest: a UIDAI helpline number surfacing on the contact list of smartphone users. People were shocked to realise the helpline contact, which the UIDAI later claimed was an old dysfunctional toll-free number, had been saved in their phone contacts without them even being aware of it. How did it sneak in? Speculation on private phone data getting compromised is already at damaging levels, for the UIDAI found the moment serious enough to formally deny it ever asked any phone-maker or telecom service provider to include its toll-free number on mobiles.
The Law & IT Minister ordered a probe forthwith. Finally, search engine behemoth Google (which developed Android) owned up to the ambush. It claimed it had inadvertently inserted the number, along with a few other emergency numbers, in the automatic setup wizard on phones way back in 2014! Who asked Google to act so helpful, without anyone asking for it—entering your phone book without your consent? How did this intrusion never get detected all these years?
Well, Google said ‘sorry’ about the trespass and ordered its own enquiry. Though the social media frenzy abated a bit after the mystery was cracked, netizens are perturbed. The mobile phone has become an office-cum-closet-cum-locker-cum-Man Friday for everyone. Virtually all data an individual possesses—numbers and passwords more vital for existence than one’s name and property—is saved on the mobile or passes through it. Moreover, Aadhaar is linked to one’s bank account and this was a UIDAI number.
That brought the whole debate back to the privacy question. Some other search engine or social media entity may enter a domain without the users’ knowledge, mine us for data and say sorry. The fact that data analytics is a big field now, every incy-wincy piece of information about individuals— medical, sexual, political, financial—can become a goldmine for the holder. Hopefully, the SC will weigh in on this when it rules on privacy and the vulnerability of citizens later this year.