Google ‘inadvertently’ added a government helpline number to contact lists of all Android phones in India

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Over the course of this week, several Android users in India took to Twitter over the mysterious appearance of a government helpline number on their devices. The number in question is the toll-free helpline (1-800-300-1947) for the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), the government agency that oversees the Aadhaar biometric identity program.

The agency’s number seemingly popped up on all Android phones in the country, irrespective of manufacturer or platform version. The initial blame was put on UIDAI, which isn’t having the easiest time of late after several security vulnerabilities were found in the way it handled the Aadhaar database. The Aadhaar initiative launched as a way to provide a 12-digit unique identifier that relies on biometric data (retinal and fingerprint scans), but in recent months the program was plagued by security leaks that exposed data of hundreds of millions of users.

For its part, UIDAI denied any involvement in the appearance of its number on contact lists of Android users all over the country, and said that the particular toll-free number wasn’t even in use anymore. I noticed the number on my contacts list a few years ago, but I assumed it was added by my carrier (Airtel) as it showed up at the same time as the numbers for Airtel’s value-added services.

That isn’t the case here, as Google admitted that it was the one that coded UIDAI’s helpline number as well as a distress number (112) to the Android setup wizard back in 2014, which was subsequently released to EOMs. As a result, all users that set up their Android devices in the country had those numbers automatically added to their contact lists.

Google didn’t go into detail as to why it added those numbers in the first place, only stating that it was done so “inadvertently.” In a statement, Google has apologized for the issue, and said that it will roll out an updated setup wizard to device makers in the country that doesn’t include these numbers.

We would like to assure everyone that this is not a situation of an unauthorised access of their Android devices. Users can manually delete the number from their devices.

We will work towards fixing this in an upcoming release of SetUp wizard which will be made available to OEMs over the next few weeks.