Cyanogen Taps Truecaller in Effort to Build a Better Mobile OS

Cyanogen best known for its FOSS Android-based OS, CyanogenMod, soon will provide caller ID screening and spam blocking directly from the native dialer on Cyanogen OS, the commercial version of its operating system.

These capabilities will be provided through the company’s global partnership with Truecaller.

They will be baked into future smartphone devices preloaded with Cyanogen OS.

“I’m wondering whether Truecaller is addressing an actual need of smartphone users,” mused Werner Goertz, a research director with Gartner.

Placing telemarketing calls to wireless phone numbers is illegal in most cases, and caller ID is available to smartphone users even without Truecaller, he told LinuxInsider.

On the other hand, the partnership “is a logical step” for Cyanogen, said Stephanie Van Vactor, an analyst at ABI Research.

It “strives to give the power of customization and choice to users,” she told LinuxInsider, and Truecaller “provides a user with another tool to customize the phone calls they want to receive or not receive.”

What Truecaller Offers
Truecaller is a global mobile phone community that lets users search for contact details from 1.6 billion phone numbers worldwide, given a name or phone number. It claims to have more than 100 million users who have replaced their mobile phone books with its app.

Truecaller is accessed through a website. Downloading Truecaller automatically protects the user against top spammers in the area.

The Truecaller client is available for several OSes, including Android, iOS, BlackBerry OS, Firefox OS and Windows Phone.

Privacy Issues
Users may have concerns about Truecaller’s privacy policy, which “is very difficult to find on its website,” said Goertz.

The policy states Truecaller will collect the user’s location, IP address, the smartphone’s unique ID number, the operating system used, and the screen resolution when its app is installed.

That is monetizable information, Goertz said.

Truecaller’s Security Black Hole
Security also might be a concern. Truecaller’s app collects all the information in a user’s contacts database and uploads it to the company’s servers.

“It is nothing less than ignorant and negligent to believe that critical and sensitive data would not be stolen in this scenario,” said Richard Blech, CEO of Secure Channels.

“Security cannot be an afterthought,” he told LinuxInsider.

The Truecaller app uploads contacts without giving users a chance a chance to filter out sensitive numbers or names, noted Jimmy Shah, senior director of research at Zimperium.

“Maybe you have a friend with an unlisted number for privacy or safety reasons, and the app now places them at risk,” he pointed out.

“There are services on the Web that crowdsource data about unwanted numbers for free,” Shah told LinuxInsider. “Trading any privacy or secrecy away for the same end result seems like a troublesome bargain.”

Truecaller’s servers were hacked in 2013 — apparently by the Syrian Electronic Army — and 460 GB of data were stolen.

However, only tokens were stolen, Truecaller explained, which were replaced. Truecaller doesn’t store passwords, credit card information or any other sensitive information about users.

In any case, users who don’t want Truecaller don’t have to be saddled with it. Cyanogen has said that all apps will be removable, even if they’re preloaded, Van Vactor pointed out.

Taking On Android and the Big G
Cyanogen wants nothing less than to take Android away from Google, CEO Kirt McMaster reportedly has said.

The company has venture funding — the latest being US$80 million in Series C funding raised in March.

Cyanogen is collaborating with Qualcomm to bring the features and UI enhancements of Cyanogen OS, its commercial OS, to some Qualcomm Snapdragon processors.

The company also has entered a strategic partnership with Microsoft to integrate Office 360 and other Microsoft apps into Cyanogen OS — a move widely seen as a bid to displace Google Apps from that operating system.

The partnership with Microsoft “does take away from the openness of the Cyanogen OS, but realistically, the company needs these types of partnerships to compete in the active market,” Van Vactor said. “Hopefully … CyanogenMod will always be open.”

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