Recently, Truecaller was restricted for use by the Indian Armed Forces as the Government of India clamps down heavily on the apps alleged of a threat to our National Security. Truecaller believes that it got caught in the cross-fire between Indian Security Agencies and Chinese apps which led to this unfortunate move. To clear the mist, Haider Ali Khan had a quick chit-chat with Hitesh Raj Bhagat, Director of Corporate Communications, Truecaller, on this ban, its effects, and much more. Edited Excerpts:
Truecaller registered its protest to include it in the list of 89 apps banned for armed forces but, what had led to it? What were the reasons given to you before or after this move?
It was unfortunate that Truecaller was included in the list of 89 apps banned by the Indian Armed Forces for their personnel. As far as our app and services are concerned, we see no reason to be included in this list. It’s important to note that this is limited only to serving armed forces personnel and does not, in any way, hinder the functionality of the app for any of our 170 million active users in India. Our users trust us to provide a vital service (Caller ID & Spam blocking), which is why over 140 million people in India out of 170 million active users open the app multiple times a day to use all our services like SMS messaging, Instant Messaging, private Group Chat, VoIP calling, Flash Messaging, UPI payments and instant digital loans.
Did you approach the Indian government to rethink their decision?
We have communicated to the relevant authorities that we stand ready to submit any clarifications and address any concerns they may have.
Do you expect this ban would impact the growth of Truecaller in India and to what extent?
We provide a very important utility to our users, which is why they use our app and also love us this much. We don’t see this ban impacting the growth of Truecaller in India but we are definitely disappointed by this step taken by the Armed Forces.
How many Indian users other than armed forces uninstalled Truecaller post this announcement?
We have not seen a spike in uninstalls post the announcement by the Armed Forces. This reaffirms to us that we enjoy a lot of trust from our user community and gives us the confidence to work towards making our app even better.
Where do you store the data Indians generate and how safe are they?
All our Indian user’s data is stored in India and our storage and data practices conform to the highest level of security protocols. We take the security and privacy of our user’s data very seriously.
What do you have to say about this app ban phenomenon?
In a way, the ban on Chinese apps seems to have worked in our favour. A lot of people seem to think that Truecaller is either Chinese or has Chinese links and investments. Obviously, neither of these statements is true but after this government order, we actually saw a spurt in new user registrations. On 2 July, we crossed the milestone of getting over 4,00,000 new registered users in one day in India. All of this happened organically, through word of mouth. That said, we also believe that user privacy and the integrity of our nation remains paramount.
How do you assure your 17 crore Indian users of privacy and data security that it won’t be used against them?
There are three aspects to this:
First, Truecaller exists to make all communication safer and more efficient. We are constantly communicating this mission and our core values to our users – through our social media channels, the Truecaller Blog, and through stories in the media.
Second, we are a company of Swedish origin but with an Indian heart. It’s not just a majority of our users and user data but also a majority of Truecaller employees that are based in India. We are a team of 230 globally and 120 of those are based in India.
Finally, we believe every user has the right to their own data and how they appear on Truecaller. This is why users can set up or alter their profile on Truecaller themselves, they can disable any permissions they don’t want to give (we show them how) and they can even choose to unlist themselves from the database with a few simple steps.
It is important to note that we do not store any sensitive data like bank account numbers, credit/debit card numbers, financial transactions, etc. Our Pay platform is secured by two of the biggest banks in India i.e. ICICI Bank and Bank of Baroda. All financial services are completely in compliance to the UPI and BBPS platforms.