Aadhaar Helpline: What Google Didn’t Answer but Needs to
Google claimed responsibility for the mystery UIDAI helpline suddenly creeping into our phones. In doing so, the tech giant appeared to end the mystery around the number, right? Wrong.
While the clarification was meant to put an end to this issue, it has only opened a can of worms. Security researchers scrubbed through the decompiled source code of Google’s Setup Wizard and dug up several questions for Google.
Interestingly, Jishnu Mohan, a software developer, had revealed Google’s involvement in this case before Google’s official clarification emerged.
1. Google Says It Inserted the Number “Inadvertently”
Security researchers and developers who scrutinised the decompiled source code also noticed that the “required contacts” field was inserted only for India and not for any other country. There is no similar provision in Android’s Setup Wizard for the United States, not even its emergency number 911.
2. Google Says They Did It in 2014. Really Though?
In its clarification, Google says their internal review traced the issue back to 2014, which raises two questions:
- A circular by the Ministry of Communications and IT (bifurcated into Ministry of Communications and Ministry of Electronics and IT in July 2016) reveals that it directed all Access Service Providers to implement “112” as a single emergency number on 4 May 2016. This stands in contradiction to Google’s statement of implementing the number in 2014.
- Further, point 5 of the letter states that the 112 helpline along with a panic button will come into effect from 1 January 2017. This prompts a clarification from the Department of Telecommunications which had issued the circular.
- We now know that there was an official government order for the implementation of the 112 helpline number. In that case, there should also be a government order for the implementation of the UIDAI number as well.
“The 112 Distress Helpline Number was announced by the Department of Telecommunication (DoT) on 4 May 2016, then how did Google code it in the Setup Wizard of the Android release given to the OEMs for use in India in 2014 ?,” said Bafna to The Quint.
“ I'm sure something is wrong with what Google is saying after the controversy on UIDAI Helpline Number,” added Bafna, a telecom sector analyst.
3. Why is This Code Not Open Source ?
Even though Android is an open source software, Google does not release codes for each and every part of the system. They keep some parts private to retain competitive advantages.
“Google, for some reason, kept the part where they add UIDAI contact privately. Usually they keep only part of the code that either deals with their products or parts which give their phones advantage over other devices privately. This particular part of the code doesn’t fit into any of these narratives. Google should also elaborate on this point,” said Jishnu Mohan, who was the first to trace Android’s involvement.
“An important point is, if it was open source, anyone could have easily found out when it was added and possibly why it was added. I had reverse-engineered the code to get the decompiled source code and scrutinise it,” added Mohan.
Recently when the European Union antitrust regulators fined Google $5 billion for blocking rivals from its platform, it was a similar open source code that revealed the ways in which Google had abused its market dominance.
4. Definition of “Required Contacts” ?
Google should also clarify what constitutes “required contacts”, especially, what “required” means and why the UIDAI number deemed a requirement.