Friday, 10 July 2009

118800 Mobile Phone Directory Search Privacy Concerns

"118800” is a new commercial Mobile Phone Directory Search venture, which charges absolutely anyone at all, £1 to obtain the mobile phone number of a UK citizen, searching by name and location. 118800 have amassed a database around 15 Million UK names, locations and mobile numbers for their directory, which was set to launch earlier in the week. I read a quote from an 118800 representative who stated the contact names and mobile phone numbers in their directory were harvested from the public domain, but what they really meant by public domain, was means they probably purchased the information from market research companies, online businesses and information brokers.

EDIT 12/06/09: Since I originally posted, a representative from 118800 has been in contact and provided further clarity on the 118800 directory search method. It seems my brief description of service was only partial, so may be misleading. I was unable to fully test the service at the time of posting, as the service was (still is) unavailable. I have decided to repost all of 118800 comments below within this post, both in the interest of fairness and to ensure the description of the service is correct and is not misleading.
"I'm from 118 800 and would like to correct the description of our service. We DO NOT give out mobile phone numbers to enquirers. We put people in touch with each other without disclosing any personal information. So if someone is trying to get hold of you through our service, you'll be called by us, told who is on the line for you and you can choose whether to be connected or not. The online service texts you with the enquirer's contact details so you can decide whether to contact them or not.

And, just like any other directory enquiry service, the enquirer needs to know your name & address. So it's very likely the first person to try to contact you using our service will be a friend or acquaintance who has lost your number or not got it on them." - 118 800

Most market research companies and online websites which collect our personal information, pretty much forcing individuals to input their mobile number these days. A minority of companies where this information is collected from, do a good job in warning their users that their information could be shared with a third party, however some companies use small print consent and opt out boxes which are disabled by default, knowing a percentage of people will neglect to read it properly, and some companies don’t even ask for consent, which is illegal under our regularly unenforced Data Protection Laws. So it is small wonder 118800 are able to go from zero to 15Million personal names, locations and mobile numbers in no time at all. Let's be clear on this, mobile service providers such as O2 and Vodafone are not providing your phone number to these guys, in fact I know they are just as annoyed at this practice.
Now it is true our government happily place our personal details on online searchable electrical roles, which can be fully searched for charge, and BT publish our names and home phone numbers in phone books which make them profit by way of advertising as well, but it doesn’t make this is right, we are now in the information age, information, especially personal information has value and companies handling our personal information are entrusted with it, they must protect it, not sell it or exploit it for profit.  With the BT phone book you can opt out and go ex-directory, in fact over a third of UK citizens concerned about this have already done so, but try searching the BT website for information about going “ex-directory”, you won’t find it. Just like Sky won’t let you cancel TV package subscriptions without phoning their call centre up, BT do the same “round the houses” tactic. Incidentally Sky happily let you add TV packages by the web and via the TV. Online audio book providing company Audible use same tactic, sign up for a free trial and enter your payments details online to subscribe, but to cancel, you have to phone them up, this from an internet based company too.

So coming back to the subject of the day, I don’t think its right that companies profit from our personal information, but at the same time they are providing a useful tool for identity thieves. An ID thief would be happy pay £1 to obtain a victims mobile phone number, while we are all aware of issues of voice mail hacking by private detectives, which is hitting the

Interestingly the 118800 website is currently down, perhaps due to complaints and negative media coverage, and they are going to the trouble to clearly describe the mobile directory search as a “Beta”. I suspect they are waiting until the heat dies down before re-launching the service.
http://www.phonepayplus.org.uk/ which regulates premium rate and directory enquiry services. And if this sort of privacy exploitation really annoys you, send a letter to your MP. Remember complaining worked with web tracking advertising venture Phorm, such was the public outcry, this week after a year of evaluating BT and TalkTalk finally dropped their plans to use Phorm.
The Information Commissioners Office (ICO), charged with protecting our personal information in this information age, again shows its complete lack of teeth by basically giving this service and others similar services than will inevitably follow the green light.


So what can we do?
1. Complain -
Some might say you will be wasting your time complaining to the ICO, but is still well worth a shot; however I recommend complaining with PhonepayPlus

2. Remove your Mobile Number from the 118800 Directory
Now if everyone did this, their service would crumble, but either way it well worth ensuring the removal of your mobile number from the directory (it really shouldn't have to be this way) and here's how.

When the 118800 website comes back, click on the ex-directory button on the 118800 website or you can text the letter 'E' to 118800 (which is also currently down) from the mobile phone you want to be made ex-directory. 118800 will send you an SMS message confirming you've been taken off.  I have to give some kudos to 118800 for offering this clearly; certainly BT could learn a lesson here.

10 comments:

contact@118800.co.uk said...

I'm from 118 800 and would like to correct the description of our service. We DO NOT give out mobile phone numbers to enquirers. We put people in touch with each other without disclosing any personal information. So if someone is trying to get hold of you through our service, you'll be called by us, told who is on the line for you and you can choose whether to be connected or not. The online service texts you with the enquirer's contact details so you can decide whether to contact them or not.
And, just like any other directory enquiry service, the enquirer needs to know your name & address. So it's very likely the first person to try to contact you using our service will be a friend or acquaintance who has lost your number or not got it on them.

I hope this helps. Thanks

Dave Whitelegg said...

Thank You for your comments.

I have decided to include your comments within the original post, to ensure the description of the 118800 service is correctly represented.

I have been wanting to try the 118800 service for the past few days, but the service has been unavailable. I'll give it go once it comes back online.

Andy Armitage said...

I'm highly suspicious of this company's activities. What they're doing in making us opt out rather than in is, I know, legal, but it is highly immoral, and I don't know why such companies were ever allowed to get away with this dubious practice in the first place. I hope Orange, whom I am with, are not dealing with them, either.

I've gone to a lot of trouble to block my own mobile from their damned directory; I was trying to block those of two other members of my household when the rather suspicious notice arrived on their web page saying they "undertake major developments" (major developments at this stage in the operation?).

They have not answered any of my emails, which I suspect is because they have received so many.

PhonePlayPlus told me we could happily part with 10p to text the directory people (actually, their site says we can't at the moment, anyway), thus adding insult to injury: we have to pay to text them to keep our numbers out of their directory! The money isn't going to them, I know, but it's 10p out of our pockets nonetheless.

I really hope enough people complain and ask for their numbers to be ex-directory that the whole scheme sinks without trace.

Dave Whitelegg said...

I couldn't agree with you more Andy.

The big problem right now is you can't even opt out, as
their website and mobile service are down.

Mad Dog said...

Whichever way you cut it this is a very bad idea. How they intend to provide the service is not really the issue and I don't much care if they are "trying to connect me" and not giving out information - if somebody doesn't have my number its because I probably don't want to speak with them. Do I really want to be called by a 118800 operator in the middle of the night asking me to accept a call? No I don't! If I am abroad - which like many other people I am from time to time, why should I have to pay an extortianate roaming charge to recieve a call from 118800 asking me to take a call I didn't ask for!!? I shouldn't!

Then of course there are the security issues for certain groups of people like abused wives or girlfriends. These people may have succeeded in finally breaking free of an abusive ex-partner only to have call from the 118800 operators saying that he/she is on the line. How is the victim going to feel then??

I too have tried to make my number ex-directory but as already noted here the site is down. So I have written to the postal address shown on the site -118 800, PO Box 2747, Reading RG30 4ZQ - telling them I want to be removed from their lists immediatly. I believe that data protection laws mean they can't ignore this so I suggest we all send letters to them - at least until their online unsubscribe is back up (they probably think we will all shut and go away if they leave it long enough). They will have to cope with high volumes of mail and acknowledge each one. It's got to be worth the cost of a stamp:-)

While you are about it, yes why not lodge a complaint online with the Information Commissioners Office (www.ico.org.uk)- these people are meant to protect our privacy under the Data Protection Act but appear to have given a green light to this project so let's pressure them too and perhaps they will change their mind. Even if it doesn't at least they will realsie how angry we all are about this.

Anonymous said...

www.ico.org.uk is down as well.....

Anonymous said...

Ofcouse the idea freaks me out that I will receive calls from people I don't want to be called by. And when I first read about this service I defenitely had to think about all the women who will be called again by their abusive ex-partner.

But on the other hand (I had a discussion about this) why is it that we don't have any problem with registering our fixed line telephone number and have such a big issues with our mobile number? Is it just the feeling that our mobile numer is more personal than a fixed one?

lilly1236 said...

The big problem right now is you can't even opt out, as
their website and mobile service are down.

Mobile phones in Lahore

forex said...

this a very lean thy blog, but very informative,keep it up.

Anonymous said...

Wow, fantаstic wеblog format! How lengthy have yοu еveг been running a blοg for?
yοu made гunning а blog glаnce eаsy.
Thе entire glancе οf your ѕite is
gгeat, aѕ smаrtly as the contеnt!
Also see my website: facebook software