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TrueCaller: User privacy questions


An investigation into potential breach of privacy rights affecting almost seven million Nigerians by the TrueCaller mobile app is underway, but this is not the first time that the app's data collection activities has been red flagged.

Director General of Nigeria's National Information Development Agency, Kashifu Abdullahi Inuwa, told delegates at a workshop in Abuja on September 28th that there is a need for citizens to be more aware about online safety.

The workshop is part of the agency's Cyber Security Sensitisation and Awareness Campaign series. "We are striving to ensure a safer cyberspace for Nigeria and all Nigerians," Inuwa said.

The TrueCaller app developer is under pressure after Isabelle Falque-Pierrotin from the Article 29 Data Protection Working Party raised concerns about how the app’s True Software collects personal data.

In the letter Falque-Pierrotin said the app’s software appears to process data from non-users - “specifically the contacts of individuals who sign up to the service.”

How violating user privacy can endanger journalists

According to Privacy International, apps that collect user information without consent can pose risks to people in vulnerable situations. In May, they reported how a journalist, who had taken precautions to protect their identity, was placed in danger by the application.

The journalist in question covers a range of stories and deals with a range of issues from human trafficking, drug cartels and government corruption. Because of this, she makes a point of not appearing on screen and makes very restricted use of social media.

More importantly, she did not make use of the TrueCaller app - but one of her sources did. The source saved her phone number and it appeared tagged in the app as “Chloe The Inquirer Journalist.”

Privacy International said the reporter “works hard to protect her anonymity”. When she travelled to West Africa on assignment, she bought a local SIM card.

It came as a shock when a local cab she ordered arrived and the driver greeted her with “So… you work for The Inquirer?”

How journalists can protect themselves

Based on the response that Privacy International received from TrueCaller, the best protection for journalists is to make use of a private number when making calls. This, however, is not always practical in cases where the source needs to know exactly who is contracting them.

One of the solutions that was given was to access TrueCaller’s website to unlist your phone number if you do not want to be discoverable on the app. Here is how:

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