justdial disappoints: privacy concerns

I am an avid user of JustDial service. Most of you might know the Indian search company that allows you to call (city-STD-code)-6999 9999 and ask for anything from the cost of transistor radios in Bandra to businesses providing bulk printing in Ahmedabad. You submit your query along with a mobile number and the moment you hang up, you get the information you asked for as an SMS. For search on the go, it is great.

But it seems that the company has started sharing search data with the businesses that are enlisted with it. The shared data includes the mobile number and the query. Consider these two instances:

A fortnight back I called for educational consultancies in Nagpur to assist me in applying to foreign universities. JustDial has a category-wise database and my query was looked for in the ‘visa assitance’ category. I got the required numbers and some irrelevant ones like tourism services. Since then, I’ve been getting messages on my phone from UAE Exchange: For visa assistance call +919xxxxxxxxx.

My cell phone number is registered with the National Do Not Call Registry (one of the few good things TRAI has done) and hence I do not get marketing calls or SMSes. I see no other way that my phone number should end up with UAE Exchange promoters exactly after I called JustDial for a query remotely related to visas.

It gets worse the second time. I called the service to find out if there were any short-term certified photography courses. Again, due to category limitations, the person assisting me looked up in the ‘photo services’ category. He asked if I wanted photo studios or photographers for hire. I said no, thank you, and hung up. Within 10 minutes I get a call from a private photo studio and the man on the other end introduces himself saying, ‘I’m So-and-so from Such-and-such Studio, I am calling about your query to JustDial. What is it exactly that you are interested in?’

I was flummoxed! It took me a while to tell him that I wasn’t looking for photography studios and was interested in a class that taught. The quick thinking businessman in him offered me a course, the details of which he made up right as he was speaking to me: ‘Yes, we have a course. Ummm… 20 days, Rs.2,000. I will teach.. um.. blah blah… Get your own DSLR.’ I asked him when does the course start to call his bluff. He said, ‘Aisa kuch nahi.. aap jab se aaoge tabhi start karenge‘ (‘Nothing of the sort, we can start whenever you come.’) I thanked him and hung up.

Later in the day, I went to the JustDial website and checked to see if there was any complaints section. There wasn’t one. I went through their Privacy Policy and it states:

Personal Information will be kept confidential and will be used for our research, marketing, and strategic client analysis objectives and other internal business purposes only. We do not share, sell or rent Personal Information except that in case you are a customer of our search services through any of the Media, your Personal Information shall be shared with our subscribers/advertisers and you shall be deemed to have given consent to the same. [emphasis added]

Now here’s the sleight of hand: If my Personal Information is not shared/rented/sold and used instead for analysis and internal business purposes only, how am I deemed to have given consent to it being “shared with our subscribers/advertisers” just because I used JustDial services? How can someone, anyone, any company assume my consent to share my personal information?

Any mechanism that shares my information without my explicit written permission is flawed. Any such sharing has to be opt-in, i.e., I have to voluntarily and in full knowledge of the consequence opt for my information being shared with advertisers. If not that, I should at the least, have the option of opting out of such mechanisms (like NDNCR). JustDial provides neither. While the service is remarkable, I think I’m going to switch to using Google. Less efficient, but doesn’t result in me being called by photo studios!

Empathisers, sympathisers and privacy advocates (if there are any reading this) can freely re-blog this in these exact words or your own words. A link back to this post would surely be appreciated. I’m not as optimistic as to think that this will make a difference, but trying never hurt.

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3 thoughts on “justdial disappoints: privacy concerns

  1. Right on, brother. Justdial is violating my privacy.

    I just heard VSS Mani at a conference. Seemed nice, but sharing my query details ought to be unethical.

    Businesses behind unsolicited calls are offering me better deals than the ones I’ve reached out to. But I just won’t take their offers. And that’s that.

    Where are you on this circa 2014?

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