Science & Technology

Truecaller Warning in South Africa: Navigating the Legal Landscape of POPIA

Truecaller faces scrutiny in South Africa over potential violations of the Protection of Personal Information Act (Popia), with experts questioning the app’s compliance with local privacy laws.

Truecaller, a widely used caller identification app, is under fire in South Africa amid concerns that it may be violating the country’s Protection of Personal Information Act (Popia). Regulatory experts have raised alarms about the app’s data handling practices, particularly its method of allowing users to upload contact information from their address books into Truecaller’s database. This practice, they argue, may be illegal under South African law.

Ahmore Burger-Smidt, head of the regulatory practice at Werksmans Attorneys, identified two primary issues with Truecaller’s operations. Firstly, Popia restricts the transfer of personal data outside South Africa unless the recipient adheres to binding corporate rules that comply with Popia. Secondly, non-subscribers to Truecaller might be unaware that their contact information has been uploaded and used by the app, which could be a significant breach of privacy.

Truecaller’s terms and conditions place the onus on users to obtain consent before sharing contact information. However, Burger-Smidt argues that Truecaller, as the entity setting the terms and processes for data collection, cannot absolve itself of responsibility. This makes Truecaller the “responsible party” under Popia, regardless of its attempts to pass the burden to its users.

Truecaller’s response emphasizes its dual commitment to user rights: the right to know who is calling and the right to privacy. The company highlighted features like the ability to unlist numbers, edit profiles, and manage personal data through the app. Yet, Burger-Smidt contends that merely offering an unlisting function is insufficient. She suggests that Truecaller should proactively notify individuals when their data is added to the database, providing them with information about their rights and how to delist.

The discussion also touches on the broader implications of data privacy in an increasingly interconnected world. Burger-Smidt praised technological advancements but stressed the importance of scrutinizing how personal information is collected and used. She called for greater accountability among individuals who use apps like Truecaller, reminding users that their consent impacts everyone in their contact list.

In summary, while Truecaller aims to balance privacy and transparency, the current debate underscores the complexities of global data privacy compliance. The situation in South Africa serves as a reminder that technological convenience must be weighed against the fundamental rights of individuals to control their personal information.

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