So, a friend pinged me today saying that she’s facing a weird problem where random strangers have started pinging her on WhatsApp and they seem to know her name. A little bit asking around and she got to know that they have been using a website to get hold of random phone numbers and using them to find girls and ping them.

It sounded interesting and then she explained whats happening. There is a new website here wowi.in which seem to be claiming that they have the list of all the WhatsApp users in India. You can go and pick one of the numbers, save it in your contact. Then let WhatsApp sync the profile picture for the number(if the owner is using WhatsApp). If the profile picture is of a girl, then just head for Truecaller to find the name. That’s a perfect crime to me.

So, who to blame? The horny men who are looking for phone numbers of girls to start a fruitless conversation that leads to nowhere but to a bit of mental satisfaction for them? Yeah, maybe. It’s not new. I’ve been seeing this around me since I was in school. The girls in our class would get random calls from random numbers where one boy/guy would start asking her name, address, what she’s doing and more. We, the boys in the class, sometimes stood a bit brave, took the mobile and threatened them to never call back again. But that never really worked. The only real solution was to ignore them, so that they run out of credit balance and stop calling. But with the introduction of WhatsApp, that limit of credit balance is no longer in place. That’s a free channel they can exploit as much as they want, any time they want. How many of them are you going to block before you lose your nerve?

Maybe blame WhatsApp? Just because a number is on my contact list, does it have to sync their profile picture without the owner’s consent? Can’t it be a permissible model? I’m not questioning the existence of WhatsApp. It’s pretty big and it’s growing bigger. More and more people are using it everyday. That might be because there is a need of messaging that doesn’t rip you off like SMS does. But WhatsApp should consider cases like this where the users become vulnerable to exploits.

So let’s blame Truecaller? Well, maybe. Truecaller is an Internet company that probably has the largest ever Mobile number directory. How do they work? Let’s say you are a good friend of mine, I trust you. So I gave you my phone number so that we can stay in touch. Now one day, you get some random calls from unknown numbers, so you feel the need of knowing who all are behind the random calls. So you install Truecaller. The moment you do that, Truecaller takes my number and my name from your contact list and possibly more of my details available to you, and put them online for the whole world to use. And I have absolutely no idea about it. So the next day, when I get calls from a random guy knowing who I am, I’m left wondering what just happened. While all these happened, Truecaller never felt the need of letting me know that my number, with my name, is being put up on their database for public to see and use. Fantastic, isn’t it?

I’ve had few debates with people before on Truecaller and their breach of privacy. You’d think that they would actually make a point of apologizing to people and amend their logic. But it seems they love to stay behind their beloved paid users. Their point is, I shared my number with you. So it was in my consent that you can do whatever with my number. So in other words, they are saying that if I have some problem with it, it’s your fault and I should take it up with you. Because the Trucaller app asks it’s user if they want to upload their contacts on their server, before they do it, they think it’s perfectly fine to put my info out their without letting me know.

There has been debates going around on this. A little search will show you how people are concerned about this. But a little has been done to fix it. Because the number of people shouting that Truecaller is useful for them to spot spam calls, seems like ten fold of the number of people that are actually being harassed AND has access to Internet. We’re not even sure how many people can’t even report the troubles they go through because of Truecaller. Like the friend of mine. She’s not going to report anything. She’ll just remove her number of Truecaller DB. Because that’s Truecaller’s solution to your harassment. “Are you being troubled because of our service? Please request to remove it from our DB.” But the question is, why do I, who is not even remotely close to using a service like Truecaller, have to go visit their site and remove my info from there when they didn’t even had the courtesy to ask me if I’m OK with them putting them there? I don’t even care about their service! Isn’t that kind of like blackmail? “Come to our site and confirm that you own this phone number or we’ll give people more data along with it.” !!

She cannot take legal steps against that website which is saying they have numbers of all the WhatsApp users. Because all that website is doing is displaying a huge list of 10 digit numbers. While it’s morally wrong, it’s not a crime. And for all I know, they are just running a scam. I’ve checked with friends who use WhatsApp and their numbers are not on that site. So they have possibly put up a random list of mobile numbers and claiming attractive things, just to bring people on their site and earn money from the ads. So while thousands of people are being harassed because of the person responsible, they are actually earning money!

What on earth happened to doing decent business?

Bibhas Debnath

iambibhas bibhasdn


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