Truecaller – How does it Work and where does it get Its Data From?

Truecaller-How-does-it-get-the-Information

The caller-id app Truecaller has really taken off in India with more than a million of its total twenty million users coming from the country. Last month’s embarrassing attack by the Syrian Electronic Army seems to have done little to stem its growth. And there is good reason behind that. Truecaller offers a service that can be genuinely useful. Once installed, it quietly sits in the background and jumps into action as soon as you receive a call from an unknown number. It scours through its database, and if a hit is found, it offers the location as well as the name of the caller. Knowing exactly who is calling before picking up the call can save you the trouble of wasting time on telemarketers and spammers. Truecaller also helps the fairer sex, who tend to have quite a few mystery admirers in India, to rip apart the veil of anonymity and stay one step ahead of the annoying admirers. It’s no wonder then that most users absolutely love Truecaller. However, judging from the Play Store reviews, a lot of users have no clue regarding how Truecaller gets its information.

How Does Truecaller Find Numbers?

The ugly truth behind Truecaller is that it gets all its information from its users. If your name is in the Truecaller database, it’s because at least one of your friends installed Truecaller and shared your details with the app. Truecaller is a collaborative phone directory that uploads the entire phone book of the user to its database. To be fair to Truecaller, it doesn’t exactly hide how it works. The Play store listing features the above video, which explains exactly how the app works. There is also a very prominent “How it Works” navigation link on the website, which dishes up the same video with a bit more explanation. Also, it is possible to use Truecaller without sharing your phonebook. However, the design and wording is ambiguous, and the Truecaller app doesn’t ever make it obvious to the user that it’s about to upload the entire contact list. Have a look at the screen below.

Truecaller-Enhanced-Search-Opt-In

The only way to proceed seems to be by activating the Enhanced Search. There isn’t any “No” button anywhere on the screen. However, there is actually a “Maybe later” button, camouflaged with the text. The “Maybe later” button violates all design guidelines, and doesn’t look remotely like a button. The interface is purposefully designed to lure users into enabling Enhanced Search, which allows Truecaller to harvest the user’s phonebook for new numbers. The ToS page linked has this to say about Enhanced Search:

“You further agree and guarantee that, if you have opted in to participate in the Enhanced Search functionality, we may collect, use and share certain information regarding the contacts contained in Your device’s phone book (“Contact Information”) with other Users in accordance with the Truecaller Privacy Policy in order to provide the Services. By allowing Contact Information to be collected, You give Truecaller a right to use that Contact Information as a part of the Service and you guarantee that you have any and all permissions required to share such Contact Information with us.”

Unless you really want to violate the privacy of all your contacts and upload their data to Truecaller, do not enable Enhanced Search.

How to Remove Your Number from Truecaller

Truecaller has recently started a new service called Name search, which allows users to search for numbers by Name and location. While building a database for providing caller id functionality is still an acceptable motive, allowing name search pushes Truecaller past the creepy line. I would strongly recommend removing your number from Truecaller’s database by heaving over to www.truecaller.com/unlist. Putting your number on their blacklist will prevent your number from ever being listed again, irrespective of whether your friend’s choose to share their phonebooks with Truecaller or not.

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2 Responses to Truecaller – How does it Work and where does it get Its Data From?

  1. Mohammed Muchhala August 28, 2013 at 11:28 am #

    Pallab, is there any way by which I can know if my name is there in their database without signing up for the service???

    • Pallab De August 28, 2013 at 1:07 pm #

      They provide an online name-search. This too requires logging-in/creating an account. You can use your Twitter (or other social networking account) to sign in. This doesn’t result in your contact list being stored.
      http://www.truecaller.com

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