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:
- Pros: I look at factors such as aesthetics, features, and overall utility.
- 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, you can learn about the most dangerous permissions.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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 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)
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.
- 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.
Final grade: C
Download: Hiya (Free)
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.
- 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.
- 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)
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.