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Sick and tired of unknown callers hammering away at your sanity? The majority of such calls originate from commercial entities — not friends or loved ones. But how do you know the difference between a telemarketer and a family member?

Easy. Get a caller ID app. Caller ID apps identify callers in real time. That means the software checks the caller ID of the incoming number against a database of known telemarketers and scammers. They suffer from serious privacy issues — but if you aren’t concerned, or want to know more, read on.

For your convenience, I’ve reviewed each app, using a fairly standard set of criteria.

Criteria for a Good Caller ID App

I determine which app provides the best experience based on three criteria:

  1. Pros: I look at factors such as aesthetics, features, and overall utility.
  2. Cons: I look at the more annoying features of the app, such as whether it requests too many permissions. Some over-permissioned apps potentially expose the user to malicious activity. However, the very nature of a caller identification app requires a lot of your personal data — even then, many go overboard. For more information on Android app permissions How App Permissions Work & Why You Should Care [Android] How App Permissions Work & Why You Should Care [Android] Android forces apps to declare the permissions they require when they install them. You can protect your privacy, security, and cell phone bill by paying attention to permissions when installing apps – although many users... Read More , you can learn about the most dangerous permissions The Seven Deadly Android Permissions: How to Avoid the Sin of Slothful Preparedness The Seven Deadly Android Permissions: How to Avoid the Sin of Slothful Preparedness Everyone with an Android device should know that your private information isn’t treated as private. For example, making an app purchase may expose personal contact information, including one’s name, physical address and email address, to... Read More .
  3. Third, I evaluate the apps with a letter grade.

Word of Warning Regarding Caller ID Apps

Some (if not all) caller ID apps take your contacts list and add it to their database. While that dramatically improves identification accuracy, it can also violate your privacy.

Most apps possess the ability to peer into your personal life to some degree, but caller ID apps are among the worst.

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Truecaller

Truecaller comes in dead last in privacy but first in accuracy. Its advantages include superior design, great functionality, and high identification accuracy. Overall, it does exactly what it claims to do: identify unknown callers. On top of that, Truecaller even offers iOS compatibility. However, Truecaller comes with a price: your privacy.

After enabling “enhanced search”, Truecaller raids your contacts list, adding it to their database. Not only does this compromise your own privacy — it compromises the privacy of your friends and relatives. You may want to think twice before installing the Truecaller app. Note, though, that Truecaller claims it does not automatically harvest the contacts of those who download the app from the Play Store.

Pros:

  • Dialer replacement: Truecaller can also replace the baked-in Android dialer, giving you a one-stop shop for making calls.
  • Call and text filtering: Like most of the other apps, TrueCaller allows you to blacklist certain callers or texters. Numbers on the blacklist get auto-blocked — this is incredibly handy for calls from telemarketers, scam artists, and other irritants.
  • Highly configurable: You can tweak Truecaller in a lot of ways. Most importantly, it can selectively block unknown callers. Most telemarketers use ID-blocking.
  • Block call spammers: TrueCaller keeps a database on telemarketers. You can automatically subscribe to this list and — without any effort — block every last one of them.
  • Aesthetically appealing: Great looking app! TrueCaller has a slick, easy-to-use interface.
  • Number removal: Truecaller supposedly allows users to remove their information from their database.

Cons:

  • Poorly-stated terms of service: TrueCaller includes a searchable database known as “enhanced search”. When you activate it, contact information copies from your phone into the TrueCaller database. However, this feature doesn’t fully work for Android users (due to Google’s terms of service). Supposedly, Truecaller doesn’t steal your information if the app originates from the Play Store. What’s troubling is that the app appears to copy your information. You have to read the complete privacy terms of service to learn that your information isn’t added to the database. Or is it?
  • SMS or phone call authentication: Truecaller requires that you authenticate it by receiving an SMS or phone call. It doesn’t require a carrier-provided number, though, so you can use a VoIP line No US Phone Number? No Problem – Best Free Apps for Calling to the USA No US Phone Number? No Problem – Best Free Apps for Calling to the USA With these apps, you get your very own American phone number that you can use from anywhere in the world. Read More if needed.
  • Shares too much data: If Truecaller gets access to your contacts list, it downloads and uses it in their “community database”. If you don’t grant it contacts access, Truecaller’s improved caller identification won’t work.
  • Separate SMS blocker: If you want to block SMS, unfortunately, you must install another app: Truemessenger.
  • Advertisements: The free version of the app comes with ads. You can eliminate the ads by making an in-app purchase of $2. Unfortunately, the license only lasts for 30 days.
  • Too many permissions: Truecaller requests a few more permissions than I feel comfortable sharing.
  • They send you emails: After installing and running the Truecaller app, you get hit with spam.

Final grade: C+

Download: Truecaller (Free)

Hiya

Need something a little less sketchy? Look no further than Hiya. (Hiya apparently also owns Mr. Number app.) Hiya offers features similar to Truecaller, such as a telemarketer/scammer block-list, a caller ID feature, and more. However, rather than rolling the SMS-blocking feature into a separate app, Hiya combines both SMS and call-blocking capabilities.

Pros:

  • Great design: The Hiya app looks great, and it’s easy to use thanks to an uncluttered user interface.
  • Great blocking: Hiya uses a database of known spammers and commercial lines, which you can use to automatically block irritating callers.
  • Straightforward privacy policy: The language on Hiya’s privacy policy is straightforward and without adornment (but see below).

Cons:

  • Saves a copy of your contacts: Like seemingly all the other caller ID apps, Hiya grabs all of your contacts. Here’s Hiya’s privacy policy. It’s very straightforward (they confirm that they grab your contacts) and easy to read.

Final grade: C

Download: Hiya (Free)

CIA (Caller Identification & Search)

CIA offers features similar to Truecaller. However, it also throws in features such as contact-backups and the ability to mass-block entire countries or number ranges. The paid (and ad-free) app costs around $2.50, and it removes ads.

However, I would be very careful using the ID backup function. The ID backup feature uploads your contacts to CIA’s servers. Unfortunately, this information includes pretty much everything stored in your account. That means your contacts’ names, phone numbers, and more.

Pros:

  • Aesthetically appealing: It’s a great-looking app! It incorporates a beautiful, easy-to-use design into its user interface.
  • Call and text filtering: CIA can block ranges of phone numbers from calling or texting. It also stops known spammers, bill collectors, and other undesirables. On top of that, you can block international calls.
  • Very customizable: CIA offers the most amount of customization options out of all the caller ID apps.

Cons:

  • Over-permissioned: CIA includes slightly more permissions than a cautious user would feel comfortable with. In particular, it includes the “precise location” permission, meaning it receives access to your GPS — more than likely for targeting ads to your geographic location.
  • Takes a copy of your contacts: Like the other apps on this list, it appears that CIA uploads your contacts to their servers. I observed the app uploading around 25MB of my data. That’s a tremendous amount of information.

Final grade: C

Download: CIA (Free)

Whoscall

With 4.3 out of 5 stars, Whoscall ranks among the Play Store’s top caller ID apps. It offers similar features as the other apps in this list. However, it seems somewhat more privacy-minded than its competitors. I did not observe it transferring large amounts of data in the background either.

Pros:

  • Caller and text blocking: Like the other apps, Whoscall can block texts and calls from irritating sources, such as telemarketers.
  • Social integration: Similar to its competitors, Whoscall can also integrate with a variety of social networks, such as Facebook LinkedIn, and Twitter.
  • Protects your data: According to Whoscall’s privacy policy, your data is collected, but then anonymized. I don’t know if this is true, but it’s reassuring to hear.
  • Offline: Unlike the other apps, if you close your data connection, Whoscall continues to function. However, it comes in at around 45MB in size, which is the largest out of all the caller ID apps I tested.

Cons:

  • May upload your contacts: According to the Whoscall privacy policy, Whoscall accesses your contacts and anonymizes it. In theory, that means it removes all names and other personally identifying data — but you never know for certain.
  • Gibberish privacy policy: Whoscall’s privacy policy isn’t as well-written as Hiya’s. At times, it reads like it’s written in another language.

Final grade: B-

Download: Whoscall (Free)

Which Is The Best?

Ideally, a caller ID app should offer two things: First, it needs to identify callers using publicly available databases. Second, it needs to block telemarketers or unwanted callers.

Unfortunately, it seems that most caller ID apps go even further: they add your contacts to their databases. That’s going too far, in my opinion.

From what I can tell from reading the privacy policies of these apps is this: If the app transmits lots of data, it means it’s taking your contacts’ information. As such, I do not recommend any of these apps — but if you have to install one, Truecaller or Whoscall might be the best options,  provided you install them from the Play Store.

For Americans seeking to block irritating callers on landlines, check out the National Do Not Call Registry.

Does anyone else use caller ID apps? Are there any other contenders? Let us know in the comments.

Image Credit: pathdoc via Shutterstock.com

Originally written on April 26th, 2013 by Kannon Yamada.

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  1. Angelina Grey
    June 1, 2017 at 5:12 pm

    Unable to login in contactive

  2. Alex
    May 7, 2017 at 10:29 am

    I personally use CallApp. I really like how CallApp integrates social media into the caller ID application. So far has met all my needs and I definitely recommend you to take a look at it if you haven't!

    • Kannon Y
      May 11, 2017 at 6:14 pm

      Cool! Thanks for sharing Alex!

  3. Rob Latour
    April 30, 2017 at 7:35 pm

    If you want to block calls on your land line, you can try a shareware program I wrote for Windows computers called CallClerk. It has lots of call blocking features. Also, it is fully functional for 30 days and while after that some but not all features are disabled unless you license it, many of the call blocking features continue to work even after the full trial period has passed. Hope it is of use to you.

  4. Me2
    March 31, 2017 at 6:35 am

    Personally, I don't use any app or program that "says" it will "protect" me from some thing, or someone.... with the exception of 1)a really good Anti-virus/anti-malware program like Emsisoft) and 2) a good password manager.
    I hate robo calls, and telemarketers as much as anybody else. But I believe that I (with a little common sense) am the best "protector" of myself. I just don't answer a phone call unless I recognize the phone number.
    If I think there's a chance I might want to find out who just made my phone ring, I wait 'til the caller hangs up and then call the number back starting with whatever number turns off my own caller ID. I notice none of the apps mentioned in this article address the problem of "spoofed" names and numbers. None of the caller ID apps is worth giving up another piece of my privacy, and I have no right to give up the privacy of someone in my contact list.
    The "No Call List" system is a joke, along with the Caller ID system.

    • Kannon Y
      April 1, 2017 at 10:03 pm

      Thanks for the comment!

      Most of the people using these apps just want to stop checking their phone when calls come in. I've had prepaid phones in the past where the friends of the previous owner would continue to call for years after the number had changed. Unfortunately, I don't believe that these apps are on the level. They're doing something insidious with our data.

      In general, I'd stay away from anti-virus programs on Android. It's been reported that anti-malware programs expose Android devices to additional security holes. Your best defense against malware is to avoid installing from unknown sources.

    • DoNotCall
      June 9, 2017 at 3:35 am

      The Do Not Call list is only as good as the people using it. If everyone reported every, or at least some, of the companies violating the DNC List then the FTC could take action. Instead people would rather go online and whine about how it doesn't work without ever reporting the violators to the FTC.

  5. Bob
    August 26, 2016 at 2:22 pm

    I would like to find an app that really does tell you who is calling BEFORE you answer the call. Unfortunately, True Caller and all the others I have tried do not do this, and I do not need to know it was a spammer AFTER I have answered it. My last gasp will be your first pick, Thread, & if that does not do what you say it does, I'll just stop answering any call I do not recognize as apparently this simple idea must be beyond tech capability.

    • Bob
      August 26, 2016 at 2:40 pm

      reply to my own post: downloaded the Thread apk & installed it, but in setting it up, I entered my e-mail address and password, and it will not respond to the enter tab being pushed at all. Just sits there. So much for your advice. I am switching to 2 tin cans on a string, and yes, call me a Luddite.

      • Kannon Yamada
        August 26, 2016 at 4:51 pm

        Thanks for letting me know about the apps. The article is around 3 years old now, so many of these apps might behave differently than they did back then.

        • Bob
          August 26, 2016 at 7:58 pm

          LOL, so is my phone (3 years old)...maybe it's telling me it's that time again....
          thanks for the article tho, liked it.

        • Kannon Yamada
          August 26, 2016 at 8:06 pm

          Thanks for the kind words. 3-years old isn't bad. It's the security problems that older versions of Android have that cause issues. Most of the malware, though, comes from outside Google's Play Store.

          I've been reading some disturbing things about these sorts of apps. i might need to remove it from publication.

          By the way, we've written articles on blocking telemarketers:

          http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/stop-annoying-telemarketers-robocalls-calling/

          However, the best service for blocking them is Google Voice:

          https://support.google.com/voice/answer/115089?hl=en

          I haven't received a single auto-dialer that I didn't want to receive in... 11 years now? My landline is totally devastated by auto-dialers though. :-(

  6. Marcel Twinbaum
    January 9, 2016 at 1:41 am

    TrueCaller definitely DOES or at least DID upload your contacts to their database--and it does so silently. I found my underage daughter's name and number there, along with the same for many of my contacts--too many to be a coincidence. And, of course, my own name and number was there. To unlist, they present a web page with a captcha that is the hardest I've ever seen; I could NOT figure out what it read, therefore I could not unlist without opening a support request, which was met with rudeness.

    • Kannon Yamada
      January 9, 2016 at 2:13 am

      That is absolutely horrible. Google needs to stop letting apps get so much of their users' personal data. It really opens the door to identify theft.

  7. Abhishek
    December 19, 2015 at 10:10 am

    I have truecaller ..
    But i have an issue i have good internet connection but when call coming internet connection is gone automatically off and after i disconnect the call data connection comes...... Sir pls help me if u can...

  8. N0body
    October 18, 2013 at 5:23 pm

    I didn't try the apps on this post, but I would guess that the GPS coordinates are for filtering a list of numbers so that you can store on your phone only numbers that people near you are getting (to save space). I don't think you really care about robo calls in Japan if you're in the USA. Just my guess.

  9. Margaret Holt
    September 22, 2013 at 4:55 pm

    Personally I just don't like all of the bloat that comes with most of the Caller ID apps. I did just buy Who Dat? Caller ID Lookup. So far its doing what I want. I don't need anything to fa.ncy all I wanted was to see who was calling and it does that just fine. And privacy is important to me and correct me if I'm wrong but it seems like a lot of the free apps have ads and cookies to track you.
    Enough of me rambling ;) I liked your reviews.

    God Bless

  10. Jean-Michel A
    April 30, 2013 at 4:51 pm

    but all these are data dependent i just stick to google voice and i am done next i wish i can hear the presentation like when we use to listen to the voicemail before we picked up ...

  11. Sam Rosario
    April 28, 2013 at 7:39 am

    I downloaded Truecaller yday and it doesn't seem to work on my android. I got few telemarketing calls yday and i cud see truecaller was "searching the database" until i picked up the call. Does it need an internet connection to work or a good network. It seems like. Aren't there any good offline apps where it can search the unknown caller and give me the results.

    • Kannon Yamada
      April 28, 2013 at 8:22 pm

      I should have mentioned that searching the database requires an active data connection. To my knowledge, there aren't many used-based offline unknown caller ID apps. :-( Which is a shame because data connections are always very spotty compared to other cellular bandwidth.

      To my knowledge, the only one that can be used in the US is:

      https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=and.p2l&hl=en

      I've never tried it - it got great reviews but it requires a few too many permissions and also includes ads in the free version.

  12. Gary Mundy
    April 27, 2013 at 5:36 pm

    On my cel I don't answer calls that I don't recognize and if you don't leave a message it wasn't very important. It is more about use of air time. At home I love to talk to telemarketers and try to keep them on the line for as long as I can then dump the call just when they think the are getting close. Ya I'm an ass but it's a hobby that I enjoy. ;~) Now that I'm old it is all about the small pleasures.

    • Kannon Yamada
      April 28, 2013 at 8:23 pm

      Gary, I am impressed with your patience and commitment to justice. Thank you sir.

    • tom
      June 20, 2013 at 4:56 pm

      Haha I got a buddy who loves doing the same thing

  13. macwitty
    April 27, 2013 at 2:32 pm

    True caller user as it works very well to block spam in Sweden. Not totally happy about the terms of service

  14. Scott M
    April 27, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    I generally don't answer any unknown callers.I don't think there isn't any reason to hide your name if you calling me.I like this program that will filter the spam when I'm not being attentive to phone at the moment.I am on do not call registries and it still continues.Anything that will make it tougher on these callers is great by me.I like the product and hope we see future refinements and there will be many more programs developed by others.

  15. Jim
    April 27, 2013 at 6:49 am

    If my phone does not recognize the number from my contacts then I just don't answer it. Most of those never leave a message so it's not even any extra work. Anyone you wish to talk to is going to leave a message. Judicious use of Google Voice numbers for things likes Craigslist ads means you don't have a problem with marketeers picking up your "real" number.

    So, unless you're in a business where you expect to get a large number of client calls from new numbers, I don't really see the need for this app.

    Well, unless their target is the people who each time the phone rings thinks they've either won the lottery or their mother is in the hospital.

    • Kannon Yamada
      April 28, 2013 at 8:26 pm

      Shamefully, I am one of those people who sweat every time the phone rings with an unknown caller. What if it's someone calling from a pay phone? Or maybe it's a new friend! I know it's not, but every time the phone rings, that's the first thought that goes punching its way through my brain. :-(

  16. Mark
    April 27, 2013 at 12:25 am

    Though it requires a little extra work, I use the SMS & call filter which is already part of avast! Mobile Security. First off, I don't answer numbers I don't know. When I get an unrecognized call, I'll look up the number (1800notes is a good reference) to see what other say about it. If it's a telemarketer, etc. I add it to the blocked numbers in avast! and they will never get through to my phone again with that number. A little more labor intensive, but this solution totally works best for me.

  17. vicntc
    April 26, 2013 at 9:30 pm

    I've been using Mr Number for some time and have been very happy with it. I might look at the others but generally find Mr Number works for me.