Chris Kranky

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Help! Viber has hijacked my mobile #

Chris KoehnckeChris Koehncke

viberTraveling internationally, I like the VoIP client Viber.  It rings, I answer, I text, they respond. Simple. I started using it to save money on roaming mobile calls but liked it more because it just worked and the voice quality was better than a typical GSM call. That was until yesterday.

I have a US telephone number (thru a VoIP provider) that I have forwarded to my Hong Kong Mobile (this number is registered with Viber).  Yesterday, my brother calls me on my US telephone number and instead of forwarding to my HK phone, my Viber client rings. I answer and say hello to my brother. Viber had hijacked my Hong Kong telephone number.

I contacted my VoIP provider and asked if they were aware that whoever they were sending the call for my Hong Kong mobile was not routing the call to my normal mobile provider but instead sending the call to Viber. They were surprised but would not disclose who their international LD provider was and indicated they would investigate.

No doubt the “unnamed” LD provider has an arrangement to query Viber and if there is a match, route the call to Viber at a cheaper rate than sending it via the normal Pachinko machine known as the PSTN. Unfortunately, neither I nor my VoIP provider get any of these savings. So in effect, we’re getting screwed.

Viber’s T&C’s and privacy statement don’t explicitly say they can intercept your telephone number. Even the vague wording doesn’t seem to seek your approval for such practice. There is also no provision to opt-out of their interception practice or at least control the behavior. In other words, I’m screwed.

With the advent of many new communication services and WebRTC is gonna fuel more, there is a desire for these services to have a unique identifier and a mobile telephone number is a handy choice.  However, Viber is leveraging the authenticity of the highly regulated world of telephony in an attempt to create a business model outside those regulatory walls. While you may consider your telephone number as your property, most governments (the US included) consider telephone numbers as a “national resource” simply on loan to you.

Hence, Viber isn’t tampering with my telephone number. They’re tampering with a local government’s telephone number. Not a port I’d necessarily want to steer my boat into.

Update 23. December – surprise, after complaining to my providers, calls are now no longer being routed to Viber. The provider provided no explanation.