How Truecaller’s success banks on India’s inadequate privacy laws

09 March 2022

In October 2021, I called a journalist based in Pakistan, who did not know me. Surprisingly, they greeted me by my name when they received the call. When asked how they identified me, they sent a screenshot of a notification received from the Truecaller app on their phone. The notification had my name, my former employer’s name, my designation at my former company, the state I was based in and the name of my mobile operator. The journalist told me that they had recently installed the Truecaller app, from the Google Play Store, on an Android phone.  

Humne aapko pehchaan liya. Humein toh yeh bhi pata hai ki aapka yeh number WhatsApp par registered hai”—I recognised you. I even know that this number is registered on WhatsApp—the journalist from Lahore giggled. They sent me another screenshot of a notification sent by Truecaller, which stated that my number was registered on Whatsapp. I was stunned, as I had never used Truecaller on this number, nor downloaded the app on the device I was using. In addition, neither Truecaller, nor Google, had ever sought my consent to use or display my private number.

Truecaller was developed by True Software Scandinavia, a Swedish company founded in 2009 by Nami Zarringhalam and Alan Mamedi. Mamedi is of Kurdish descent and was born in a refugee camp in north Sweden, and Zarringhalam moved to Sweden from Tehran at the age of three; both are Swedish citizens now. “The app began when our co-founders were just students who wanted to create a service that would easily identify incoming calls from unknown numbers,” its website says, adding that Truecaller “is the go-to app for Caller ID and spam blocking.” On 8 October 2021, the company listed its initial public offering on Nasdaq Stockholm. According to crunchbase, the firm raised a total of $98.6 million over eight rounds of funding, with Zenith Venture Capital, Atomico and Sequoia Capital India among the lead investors.

Rachna Khaira is an award-winning investigative journalist based in Delhi. She specialises in issues of privacy and technology.

Keywords: Truecaller Data-protection bill Right to Privacy