This spam blocker may add a layer of anonymity to your social media presence while Twitter and Facebook are under pressure to verify their users

This spam blocker may add a layer of anonymity to your social media presence while Twitter and Facebook are under pressure to verify their users
Doosra mobile app, which offers users the option of setting up an alternative numberBI India
  • The Indian government’s new rules for social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter mandates the ‘voluntary’ verification of users.
  • According to Mozilla, this could potentially put personal data at greater risk of being hacked.
  • Doosra, an Hyderabad-based startup, is offering a way, for users worried about their privacy, to create an alternative digital identity.
Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and other social media platforms have been asked to verify the identity of their users — this could be either through phone numbers or government-issued IDs like the Aadhaar card.

Putting your number online is not just a risk in the face of increasing government surveillance. It is also about privacy and online safety since personal data can have in-real-life (IRL) consequences like being targeted by stalkers, trolls or people looking to hack into your bank account. “Where there is personal data, there is a great risk of hackers trying to steal it,” pointed out Mozilla in a statement.

An Indian startup based in Hyderabad called Doosra has a possible solution. Instead of using your real number to sign up, use an alternative number to create a secondary digital identity. This doesn’t mean going out to buy a new SIM, but creating a second app-based ‘virtual’ number.

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“The only people that will have any kind of access to your primary number would be if we got an executive order from the official authorities,” Aditya Vuchi, founder and chief executive of Doosra told Business Insider.

This means that if your social media handle is found to be a part of any activity, which violates Section 69 of the IT Act, the government or Supreme Court will first have to issue an order to the social media platform. If and once they discover that the mobile number given is a Doosra number, they will have to issue another order to Doosra in order to gain access to your primary number.

The trouble with mobile numbers
Mobile phone numbers started out as a simple communication tool. Their purpose was simply to allow your friends and loved ones to reach you no matter where you were. Over time, mobile phone numbers turned identifiers for business databases — a way for them to keep track of their customers — before turning into an all out marketing tool.

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The Indian government’s mandate to use phone numbers as a way of ‘voluntary’ verification — a know-your-customer process, of sorts — for accessing these online platforms poses a new threat.

“This means that any message you share on WhatsApp, Facebook and other platforms that is re-shared, makes your number that much more accessible to various databases, leading to spam from real estate offers, insurance scams, stalkers and worse,” said Vuchi.

Addressing the deficit of trust
The six-month old Doosra is the first such service to be available in India. It is not that other such apps don’t exist — like 2ndLine, Hushed, and Burner — but you need an American or Canadian number in order to sign up for them. Doosra caters to numbers based out of India.

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You need your real number to sign up for the service, and it is not free with plans starting at ₹59 per month for essential services and ₹83 per month for the pro package.

The Doosra number can be used to sign up for WhatsApp, Twitter and others or given for Aadhaar, banking details and subscriptions. This is because all of these services require an OTP for verification and Doosra logs all the incoming messages on your secondary number.

“I bought a car very recently. And, throughout the entire cycle, neither the sales guy or the paperwork guy has access to my primary number. They only had access to my Doosra number,” said Vuchi.

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According to him, most people using the app so far are addressing a ‘deficit of trust’. They’re uncertain of how their number will be used — or misused — if they give it out to a third party, which is not surprising considering that when you go online to shop for insurance, at a portal like PolicyBazaar, they want you to share your number before you can even compare rates and figure out what you want.

The startup did not share the exact number of subscribers it has so far, but Vuchi did disclose that Doosra has seen just shy of a million messages and around 25,000 business sender IDs have been detected. “We can’t see what the messages are, but we do know when businesses reach out to the consumers” he explained.

The key clientele so far has been small business owners, sales professionals, and, in some cases, actors too. But with the walls closing in around a person’s digital identity and privacy turning into a luxury that very few can afford — Doosra expects business to boom in the future.

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