Look Who’s Calling

Millions of smartphone users in Jordan are turning to Truecaller to rid themselves of nuisance and spam callers.

By Sadad Talhouni

With 65 million users worldwide, Truecaller is easily the most popular of a growing number of apps that allow users to identify and block anonymous callers by matching phone numbers with a user-generated registry. Truecaller’s CSO and cofounder Nami Zarringhalam said his app is proving particularly successful in Jordan and the wider Middle East.

Since you launched Truecaller in 2009, what has the take up been like in the region?

The number of users in the region has grown by an average of 200 percent since last year, and the same goes for Jordan. We now have 18 million users in the Middle East in total. In Jordan alone, we have 2.5 million users actively using the application, which is equivalent to almost one-third of the population.

Why do you think Truecaller is so popular?

There is a very common pain point of people not knowing who is calling them and receiving spam text messages and phone calls, and Truecaller solves that problem.

How does the app gain access to caller information, and how do you make money out of it?

There are several different ways that Truecaller works. The first and most common functionality is that we collect different white and yellow pages from across the world. In the Middle East, however, there aren’t many of them, so what we actually do is create a global directory of verified phone numbers from the phonebooks of our users. Of course, these features are disabled by default, and the users can choose whether to participate in this community or not. As for our business model, we have an ad-based model and a premium feature that enables extra functionalities and services that users can buy into.

Your app can identify and display information on callers without asking for their permission. Don’t you think this is a breach of privacy?

Truecaller is actually meant to make the mobile environment more secure, because if someone you don’t know is calling you on your phone, that person has received your phone number from somewhere and you have the right to know who that person is. I think that adds to the user’s privacy and security, rather than anything else. It’s also important to keep in context that everything that Truecaller does is permission-based; users control everything in this environment.

With so many Truecaller users in the region, what are your plans for the Middle East?

There are a lot of things happening in the region. We know that startups are a growing trend here, and we’d like to be a part of that. Collaborating with network operators and ecosystem owners is important, but we also want to engage with local app developers and the startup community. We are also going to be recruiting business developers for the region, and since we have such a strong footprint in Jordan, it’s very likely that we will find someone from here.