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Page last updated at 14:12 GMT, Tuesday, 9 June 2009 15:12 UK

Mobile phone directory to launch

Dominic Laurie
Working Lunch

Watch Working Lunch's report, above

A company will begin offering a directory service from next week that allows people to find the mobile phone numbers of people they don't know.

Run by 118800, it will cost £1 and use databases of numbers it said are freely available for purchase and in the public domain.

Anyone searching for a number can type the name and location of the person into the 118800 website.

It claims to have some 15m numbers in its database.

Privacy campaigners have been angered by the system despite it getting the all-clear from the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).

The ICO ruled that the system did comply with current law and was little different from companies who use such contact lists for cold calling.

It said that opting out of the service should be made easy for those not wanting their details to be used in the directory.

Privacy concerns

Shona Foster, Connectivity
Shona Foster says her company is acting ethically.

118800 gets numbers from three sources. First, market research companies who contact individuals and ask if they would be prepared to allow their numbers to be used for commercial purposes.

Second, from online businesses who often ask customers to tick boxes during the normal course of online transactions.

Thirdly, 118800 gets them from brokers who buy and sell lists of phone numbers.

118800 said that has about 15m phone numbers on its databases which is just a fraction of the 40m adults who have one or more handsets in the UK.

Some legal observers are concerned by the precedent the system sets.

"You are supposed to have people's consent if you are going to pass their number around and they need to know where it is going to go," says Chris Watson, a lawyer at CMS Cameron McKenna.

"When people tick a box, saying they have no objection to their number going to the company they are dealing with, they don't anticipate that it could then be sold.

"Not just possibly to trading partners, but to anybody under the sun".

Connectivity - the company operating the 118800 service - said that privacy is paramount to them, and that it's easy to withdraw your mobile phone number from their databases should you choose to do so.

To unsubscribe, you can either click on the ex directory button on the their web homepage, or you can text the letter 'E' to 118800 from the mobile phone you want to be made ex-directory. 118800 will send you an SMS message confirming you've been taken off.

118800 website

"We are accessing data in the same way that lots of other companies do for marketing purposes", Shona Forster, 118800's Marketing Director, told Working Lunch.

"The difference is that we don't use that data for marketing purposes and we don't sell it on to anybody else".

How it works

If the company has it, contact details will be sent in a text message to them.

On the phone version, you call the number, and again they will check whether they have the person's details on their database.

You are supposed to have people's consent if you are going to pass their number around and they need to know where it is going to go.
Chris Watson, Lawyer

If they do, they will call them up while you are still on the line and ask them whether they are prepared to have your call put through to them.

In neither case is the mobile phone number given over to the person making the request.

Both services cost £1.

For most of the 20th century, the landline was the only phone around. With the mobile you're always available, so it's the number most of us dial first.

So it is perhaps not surprising that a directory service is starting up that allows people to find out someone else's mobile phone number in the same way we've always been able to do for landlines.

video and audio news
Raj Raithatha, chief executive of Connectivity, the controversial mobile phone directory service, tells Working Lunch's Declan Curry that the 118800 service is an innovation.


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