coronavirus Technology

Doosra app: Protecting the privacy of India’s COVID-19 volunteers

Representational image   | Photo Credit: Charlotte May/Pexels

In 2015, Nivetha Sakthivel was volunteering to send relief materials from Coimbatore for the flood victims in Chennai. One night, she got a call from an unknown number when supervising boxes getting loaded into a vehicle. “Hey, how are you?” the man at the other end asked. Half a minute into the conversation, Nivetha realised he was trying to flirt with her.

“It was so frustrating. You are already stressed, managing all the work and calls for help and you have to deal with such people,” she says. The call wasn’t a one-off. She received over 200 such calls and numerous messages asking her “for friendship” — many of them even months after her volunteering stint.

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These calls and messages started after the volunteering group shared Nivetha’s number along with the other volunteers on social media.

Nivetha is now a professional social worker. The experience six years ago has taught her to tread with caution. She uses a separate number for work and asks her volunteers, especially the female ones, to be careful about sharing their contact details.

Sample screenshot of Doosra app

Sample screenshot of Doosra app  

However, sharing one’s phone number in such circumstances becomes inevitable. Harassment calls, hence, are mostly unavoidable. Even in other daily situations — like at the supermarket counter — we reluctantly share our numbers and later get infested with spam calls.

Aditya Vuchi found himself in a similar situation. At the billing counter of a sports retail chain, he was told that it was mandatory to share his number to complete the transaction. He was unwilling. Then, he recalled the other instances where he had to share his number with reluctance.

About a year later, he and his team in Hyderabad came up with Doosra, an app that provides users with a secondary phone number and blocks unwanted calls.

How it works

Doosra (which, in Hindi, means second), essentially, is a virtual mobile number that a user can share with others without compromising their privacy.

Free for volunteers
  • Ever since the pandemic began, many volunteers across the country have complained of stalking after sharing their numbers. So, Doosra is providing a free six-month plan for them.
  • “There are people with nefarious intentions everywhere. And, it also gets difficult if your phone is ringing 100-200 times in the middle of the night. Volunteers have a life of their own and need to look out for themselves. This is why we felt it was important to give them this option of a free plan,” says Aditya.
  • To avail the free offer, volunteers can email the team at covid19@doosra.io or fill this online form.

“We have been seeing a lot of data breaches and issues in cybersecurity of late. So, we felt it was important to protect your identity from the phone number you end up sharing,” says Aditya, who also heads MediaMint, a marketing and advertising firm, and Zippr, an Information Technology (IT) service company.

This is how it works: You get a Doosra number upon signing up. All calls to your Doosra number, except those in your ‘trusted contacts’ list, will be blocked. The caller can send you a voicemail. You, however, get to know the caller’s number. So, you can call them back using the app using “an intermediate number” so that the other person sees neither your phone number nor your Doosra number. You can also disable the call blocker on the app for a specific time or location.

Doosra offers two plans — ‘Essential’ (at ₹699 per year) and ‘Pro’ (at ₹999 per year). The charges are for the promise of privacy and keeping the app ad-free. The company even has a ‘Privacy Manifesto’ that declares, “We believe that privacy is a fundamental right. An undeniable right earned at birth. sign up for WhatsApp.”

With a Pro plan, the Doosra number can even be used to create a Whatsapp account after a Know Your Customer (KYC) verification. Aditya says this helps small-time solopreneurs. “For instance, a yoga teacher can now have two Whatsapp channels — one for work and the other for personal use — apart from the two different numbers,” he explains.

Doosra protects its users from spammers, scammers and stalkers. But can someone misuse the anonymity the app offers to call and harass someone?

“No,” responds Aditya, “Which is why we have only a call-back opinion. You can’t dial someone using Doosra.”

Aditya doesn’t reveal Doosra’s number of users but it has over 50,000 thousand dowloads from Play Store and is available on the App Store as well. “I am happy with the numbers. So far, we have over 30,000 business account numbers interacting with Doosra numbers. So, the engagement is pretty good.”


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Printable version | Jun 19, 2021 9:51:05 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/technology/doosra-virtual-phone-number-to-protect-privacy-covid19-volunteers-india/article34597476.ece

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