04
Sep
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We've all had this happen: your phone rings and the caller ID shows only a number because the contact isn't in your address book. You've no idea who it is, so you reluctantly answer. Turns out it's either someone you don't want to talk to, a wrong number, a bill collector, or some other person you'd have rather avoided.

Before today, an app called Mr. Number could've made that scenario play out a little bit differently. The app had a feature called crowd sourced caller ID, which - get this - shared your entire address book with other Mr. Number users. And by "share," I don't mean it sent your address book to everyone so they could simply look through it, but rather it would let you know who was calling when the person wasn't in your contact list by checking the number against its collection of stored names/numbers.

For example, let's say that both you and I are Mr. Number users and chose to opt-in to the crowd sourced caller ID service. If, say, my wife (whom you've never met) tried to call you, her name would show up on your caller ID. Why? Because she's in my address book, and I shared that information. Crazy, right?

Clearly this application operated in somewhat of a gray area; would you want your contact information shared with every user of the service? I sure as heck wouldn't. But, for the past two years, Mr. Number has been part of the Android ecosystem doing just that. In fact, it's quite the popular app - 4.4 stars with 1m-5m installs. Impressive.

Now, however, thanks to a recent change in Google's ToS, Mr. Number had to shutdown its crowd sourced caller ID feature. Why? Because there's no way, no way, that every user had each contact's permission to share their name and phone number with this service. Mr. Number attempts to defend itself by saying that "they told you not to opt in to crowd-sourced Caller ID unless you had permission from their contacts and we offered a paid version instead." Give me a break. Here's the clause in question:

Personal and Confidential Information: We don't allow unauthorized publishing or disclosure of people's private and confidential information, such as credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, driver's and other license numbers, or any other information that is not publicly accessible.

Google saw this "feature" for exactly what it was: a violation of privacy. While the potential value of a crowd sourced caller ID isn't difficult to see, the actual implementation was just shady. It should be up to each user of the service to upload their own information, not take it upon themselves to share the information of friends, colleagues, co-workers, family members, or whoever else may be stored in their phone. If done that way, the service could build a collection of names and numbers, all of which were provided by their respective owner. Collecting personal information for all contacts stored in a phone, though, that's just shady, even with the phone owner's permission.

Clearly, the Mr. Number developers are upset by this change. In a post on their official blog, they said that "Android isn't as open as [they] thought it was," and that "you need permission to innovate." But, this isn't a matter of being open. This is a matter of privacy, no matter which way you slice it.

I, for one, am glad Google is plugging privacy holes in its Terms of Service. My phone number and who I share it with is my personal business, and I'm happy that Google is doing its part to keep it that way.

[Mr. Number Blog; Thanks, Andrew!]

Cameron Summerson
Cameron is a self-made geek, Android enthusiast, horror movie fanatic, and musician. When he's not pounding keys here at AP, you can find him spending time with his wife and kids, plucking away on the 6- or 7-string, or watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on repeat.

  • Usama Ahmad

    I'm glad Google put a stop to this.

    • ProductFRED

      Agreed. I don't want anyone who has my number to automatically share my name with my number. I know it doesn't show up unless I call someone who uses the app but it still makes me uncomfortable that my name and number are being stored in a remote database susceptible to a whole host of things.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y4E3BKVZ7H5SJBC5TDO7QHMBUE magnetik

        you mean like the yellow pages?

  • LilMoffTarkin

    So how about when the phone company indicates my name on land line caller ID (and makes me pay to opt out). How is that not an invasion of my privacy?

    • http://www.facebook.com/Shinakuma George Millhouse

      because that is the phone company sharing it not some third party. you are using their services. You dont get a say when someone else who has stored your name and number shares it with every tom dick and harry on this app. It should have been shut down.

      • http://www.facebook.com/darktremor Robert Travis Kirton

        Okay, then why isn't the cell companies passing the name along with a number to the cell phone? That would eliminate this issue altogether.

      • IamTheFij

        I think it wouldn't be an issue if I really trusted the companies security.

        But knowing they are a small company, one hacker could steal quite a bit of contact information just by getting access to their database. I've never used their service, but for all I know, my contact info is there too.

        • http://www.facebook.com/W1ckedfrosty Danny Frost

          I agree they are small, and they could get into, However I also dont understand what getting a list of names and phone numbers are going to do? Send more telemarketers after u? Its not like they have your credit card numbers, or SS#. And once they call a few people that are on Mr.number the number will be flagged as a telemarketer anyway~

  • ElfirBFG

    Ogod, everyone is so scared of the future. If this only shares my name when _I_ call/text someone, I have no objections. I have a searchable Facebook and G+ that show my name, and whichever picture I have set up as a display image. My name and number, and far more personal information are stored on a multitude of different servers with varying degrees of security. Your information is ALREADY out there, it's being sold/traded by any number of people/companies/organisations. I hope you all wipe exif data on every photo you take if you're that paranoid.

    *dalegribble.png*

    • fixxmyhead

      Totally agree.I'm not like the rest of the crowd who is super scared or paranoid about every little detail. Damn people stop being paranoid about every thing

      -Rusty Shackleford

      • ElfirBFG

        Are you the real Rusty? Or is this just Gribble...? ;)

    • MattEden

      Yeah that's all well and good but you know the one major difference with everything you mentioned and this app? I chose to put my data out there. I did the research to determine whether or not i trust the company to share my info with them. This TAKES my info from someone else without my knowledge. If the app only took the users info and not their contacts that would be a different story.

      • ElfirBFG

        You really think that NONE of the companies that you've given your info to have sold it off? You must have NEVER received a telemarketing call. All of YOUR info is safe and sacred because you took the safe(see:naive) approach and 'researched' EVERY company you've given data to. Haha.

        How about photos? Do you make sure that your GPS is off before a snap? Do you wipe exif? If you don't, you're sending LOTS of information out there, without researching who you're giving it to, I might add.

        • IamTheFij

          There is a big difference.

          A.) Me agreeing to turn my own info over to a service for personal gain is my own choice.

          B.) You turning over my info to a service for your gain, is not my choice.

          Every example you've given has been akin to Example A, while Mr. Number falls in Example B.

          • ElfirBFG

            Your info is turned over without your consent quite often, sometimes with consent but without your knowledge (do you read every word in Terms and conditions/Service you agree to?) If my info is being put out there, is much rather it be for a community gain rather than for a marketer.

    • IncCo

      Thats fine, you can share your name and number and other information all over the internet as much as you want. But doing the same thing with every number you have in your contacts list on your phone is not okay. Those people would not have a choice in the matter. Do you not understand the difference?

      • ElfirBFG

        File a class action against the White Pages. All your information is out there, being shared, often without consent. Which part of that are you not following. Welcome to the future. This app doesn't have a user searchable database, and nothing to suggest that that database is any more or less secure than the plethora of other databases housing your data. The app only shares contract info with those that that very contract is trying to reach.
        Blah, blah, blah, but they didn't give consent. I know. If it was user searchable, I'd even agree with you, but it's not. What are you trying to hide? If you text or call ME, I should be able to know who YOU are.

        • IncCo

          The white pages do not have cell phone numbers unless you want them to (at least not in my country). Who are you to decide for other people!?

          • ElfirBFG

            Why are home phones allowed to be listed and not mobile? Landlines are attached to a fixed address, which to me is a bigger security risk. Especially when it's a user searchable database.

            I am not deciding anything for any one. Merely, I am stating my opinion on the matter.

            I think hiding behind 'unknown/private caller' is dishonest. If you are calling me, I should know who you are. How did you get my number? If I don't know you, -why- do you have my number? Why are you hiding your number? I don't want to treat unknown numbered friends the same as unknown solicitors, but without a service like this, I have to.

            You're entitled to your belief, and you've even chose the winning team, but I think that if everyone's info is already out there, that it should be used for the greater good of telecommunications.

          • IncCo

            I agree that it would be nice to have every number out in the open, but i also choose to respect that some people choose not to have that. And by using an app like this one, you make that choice for everyone in your contacts list.

  • http://thekonietzkystrain.tumblr.com/ NeuroMan42

    I tried that app, was outrageously spammy and not just to me... to ANYONE that I texted or called.

  • JG

    Stupid question, but... Is there a reason there has never been a central database of cellphone numbers like there is with land lines? When someone calls my landline, the call ID pops up "John Doe 555-555-5555", so why can't I have that on my mobile? I doubt it'd take all that much bandwidth up to push 30 or so odd characters for the call ID along with the 10-digit number...

    And I get the concept of the crowd sourced phone book, but... Out of curiosity, how would it act if several people had someone's number in, but listed as a different name... I have my mother listed as Mom in my phone... If she tries to call on of my Fraternity Brothers because she can't get a hold of me at school... Would it pop up as "Mom" on his phone? Or if Cameron's wife calls my phone (using his example from above), would it pop up saying "Ball & Chain"?

    • http://twitter.com/whatisajimmy ok

      You can do this on Verizon. In fact, you can change it on the fly in My Verizon Mobile.

    • IamTheFij

      Many cell companies charge for caller ID service just like landlines did in the past.

      Although when I call a landline with caller ID from my cell, I don't think my name shows up anyway.

  • aatifsumar

    Two Words: TrueCaller Bro.
    Have existed for over a year. Do the exact same thing. Initially, they weren't allowed on the Play Store. Now, they are even on the Play Store officially. How come they are allowed? Could you shed some light?

  • http://www.facebook.com/mark.gjodvad Mark Arpon Gjødvad

    What about Yellow Pages? Do you get your mobile numbers listed on there? Because we do in Denmark, unless you choose to opt out. Because then Mr. Number could just cross reference Yellow Pages and then show the caller ID I guess. :)

    • pilgrim

      In Poland we are asked beforehand about being published in publicly available list that you can call and find phone numbers. I don't think many people want that.

  • Guest
  • http://brgulker.wordpress.com/ brgulker

    Privacy is becoming so ridiculously complicated.

  • Amenemhat1

    Mr Number is the least of my worries. I am more concerned about what the FBI has without my permission. http://www.forbes.com/sites/parmyolson/2012/09/04/fbi-agents-laptop-hacked-to-grab-12-million-apple-ids-anonymous-claims/

  • http://www.ellianth.com Ellianth

    If I ever caught one of my friends using an app that gave out my contact details like this...

  • ElfirBFG

    How would you get more spam? Does Mr. Number share your data with people that you're NOT calling?

    • IamTheFij

      How do I know? I'm not in control of their data. If you have me in your address book, you are sharing it to people I'm not calling.

  • faceless128

    isn't this exactly what Google fell out with Facebook for? the question on who owns your friends data? Facebook says Facebook does, and they don't want to share. Google says you do, and wants to share... except in this case.

  • Patrick Miller

    I wish they would at least do a callerid dip. That means they lokup the information in a national database put out by the phone companies.

    Many landlines stopped sending the name with cell phones because cell phones didn't display the published names. Probably 40% of the cell phones have a callerid name associated with them. Most alternative providers still publish the number. I.e. voip & cable companies. (instead the landline displays out of area or wireless caller)

    Part of this is also because it costs the phone company something like $1 for every 100 names looked up that are not in its system. I.e. from another phone company . Thats when they do the national dip, and the name may not appear until the second time that caller calls someone on the network. Due to the time a lookup takes, and to male sure its not a one time call (why lookup for a caller that won't call again), then they keep it for x lenght of time.

    If all the equipment (sometimes a dozen switches) the call is connected through is new enough, the name can be sent with the call in real time.

    This is standard phone company stuff . You used to have to pay for an unpublished number, and more for a private number. But then the phone company made money because people subscribed to callerid. Then competition came around and only the number is required to be passed, why help another company. Unless they pay.

    Then business numbers were different . they want there info published (non-spammer/scammer. the phone companies charged more for published business lines.

    • NeverCease2BAmazed

      Re "Part of this is also because it costs the phone company something like $1 for every 100 names looked up that are not in its system."

      Gotta love when people make up facts and try to sound authoritative about them.

      All caller id (and optional) name transmission is sent by the callers service provider. The company that receives the call passes that information along. There is no sharing of information among carriers, no lookups. Never has been.

      Unless you have a cool program like Mr Number... as of 2-3 years ago.

  • Jake McSparin

    There was absolutely nothing wrong with it! There was no feature to look up names on the system. The only way a contact's info was shared was if that person was in contact via phone call or text with the Mr. Number user. Putting a name next to a number of someone who is calling you or texting you is NOT privacy invasion, it's intuitive and useful.

  • Al H

    I knew there was another good reason why webOS is superior to Android. An app like this would not even be POSSIBLE in webOS because the OS protects private data like this from other apps. I was grumpy about that when it first came out. But after my first use of Android and suddenly seeing facebook knowing about people that were in my gmail contact list, I understood why webOS gave a darn about the security of it's users and Android didn't.

  • billybobjon

    Your a tard....you say....it's your number and your business who you share it with......think about it....if your data was uploaded to Mr number.....could I go and find your number by searching???? No you couldn't......now if you call me...then and only then..can I get a name to go with said number.....AND if you are calling me for me to even get the info....aren't you already sharing your number with me by calling me? So your point has no point buddy.

  • asdf

    I disagree. Why would you call someone and not want that person to know who you are? Only for a nefarious purpose, I think.

  • Name

    This was my favorite feature. Was sad to see it go.

  • jthomps

    google's objection was that mrnumber automatically shared all of the user's contact names/numbers, not the mrnumber user's name/number.

    mrnumber should ask the user whether they want to opt-in for sharing their name/number with the crowd sourced caller id database. Under no circumstances should mrnumber share contact info from that users' contacts.

  • Angry-Danielle

    The only way person c gets person a's number from person b is when person a calls person c. All mr number did was add a name. If person a doesn't want person c to have their info, don't call person c then.

  • joe

    why does some numbers still ring in on my phone and they are not on my list

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y4E3BKVZ7H5SJBC5TDO7QHMBUE magnetik

    This sucks actually. Mr. Number was the only program to label out spammers before I picked up the call. The only people that like the change are spammers.

  • http://twitter.com/BuzzClifton Buzz Clifton

    I know this is old news, but it still irks me. The idea that I have a right to keep my identity secret from the person that I am calling/texting is nonsense. If I don't want him to know who I am, why am I calling in the first place? All that Google has accomplished here is to help telcoms, telemarketers, scammers, and criminals to continue to abuse the network just as they always have. I can't help but think that this app was starting to put a tiny dent in a revenue stream of one of it's business partners, so they pulled it from the market as a favor. The fact that the new version of the app will return even better caller ID info is proof enough for me. Of course the new database is provided by a third party for a fee, so all the concerns about black-hats are still just as valid. At least the telcoms still get to make money by selling your name and number, and that's what's really important.

  • Chronic Spam victim

    It sounds like Cameron Summerson and Google are on the spammers side.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Y4E3BKVZ7H5SJBC5TDO7QHMBUE magnetik

    Mr. Number before the googlefuk was the best app ever. I could identify if a # was spam by reading the comments on the # before I picked it up. Since phone companies are allowing spoofing of caller ID's.. this was the best method of stopping telemarketing calls. I suppose google makes $$$ in some way from them is the only way I can explain it.

  • pinocchio

    This was really nice when it was working. I'd have loved to have had it continue!

  • http://www.facebook.com/W1ckedfrosty Danny Frost

    This is stupid people! Why are you all so stressed out? Who are you trying to hide your calls from? If you are not doing anything shadey, then u dont have anyone to hide your name from! I have the right to know who is calling my phone! and If some1 wants to tell me who it is, that is not illegal! Its basic, Who are u trying to trick into answering the phone?~

  • http://www.facebook.com/W1ckedfrosty Danny Frost

    I would also like to point out in the example above, His wife was calling the other person! -_- Its not like the other person randomly called his wife from the phone number~ She called, so her name came up! What is wrong with people.... -_-

  • Howard

    I'm glad google halted this. I use mr number and have no use for names in other folks address books from their cell phones. Think about it. Who puts the name and phone number of a spammer into their private address book? If anything, I would be more inclined to remove a spammer and never do business with them again. The better approach is for mr number to maintain a separate database of spammer names and numbers from user feedback. Which I think is exactly what they are doing now.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Thompson/100001553473428 Mike Thompson

    You people are what's called "Android Idiots". Sure they want to honor all the privacy of their customers unless it's Google taking the private information and using it to sell things to you OR TO SELL THAT INFORMATION TO ANY OTHER ENTITY WILLING TO PAY!

    ProductFred doesn't want his number and name on a server somewhere that pops up when he calls a friend. If you only knew how much information Google already has in their databases on almost every american; you people would get off your duffs and call your congressperson to get immediate action (which for congress means at least 2 years).

  • PAH

    Well, since the only time your information would be shared, would be if YOU call some party using your telephone number. When that happens, you are voluntarily sharing YOUR NUMBER with the party you are calling. Do you have the right to call someone anonymously, hiding your identity? I think only insofar as you are able to "get away" with it. If you are thwarted because other people you have also contacted have recorded your name, in association with your number... not sure that is a privacy concern that needs to be protected.

  • WhatAWonderfulWorld

    I know this is old, but I just had to comment.

    In the BIO the phrase "self-made geek" blew my mind. I had no idea there were alternatives. Who is forcing people to be geeks, and why?

    Some quick points:

    Your wife gave you her phone number, and you shared her with 100,000 internet users. Who violated her privacy? You did of course.

    Once you start giving out your name and phone number, you have lost control of it. You give up any reasonable expectation of privacy.

    The constitution offers no guarantee that we can phone people anonymously.

    If your wife is so concerned her name doesn't appear on my phone, just have her type the equivalent of (*70, the POTS code that dates back 30, 40? years). I got on y carriers site and found the code to make my calls come from "Private Caller".

    If I regressed to childhood and made Bart Simpson style phone pranks I'd make use of this simple feature. But generally I don't call people and refuse to tell them my name!