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.
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.
So what can we do?
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
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.