118 800 answers privacy issues: 'We'll tell you where we got your data from'

118 800 has spoken out on privacy issues as the dust settles after last week's predictable howls of outrage. We put your concerns to one of the directory's directors

You've no doubt heard of 118 800: the directory inquiries service for mobile phones prompted predictable howls of outrage when it was announced last week . The 15 million-strong database was gleaned from buying mailing lists, among other things. We're going to stick our necks out here and say we're not bothered. We met with 118 800's marketing director Shona Forster, who outlined the extensive safeguards for our information, including the option to track where your data came from.

While we're not happy about our details being out there, we're not going to knock 118 800 over it. The fact is, our details are bought and sold by marketing shysters all the time. Forster reckons 118 800 is copping flak because it's a visible target, unlike faceless marketing types. If anything, 118 800 is reclaiming our details by actually making the data work for us, the Great British consumer.

118 800 is at pains to point out the security measures in place to protect the database. It's stored on secure servers that can only be accessed by the Web site or call centre. Your number is not given out to people looking to contact you: the Web search will send you a text message with the contacter's name and number, while the phone service calls you, plays a recording of the contacter saying their name, and asks if you want to be connected. If you say no, the caller is politely told the call can't be connected. We hoped that message would be accompanied by a Nelson Muntz-esque "haa ha!", but sadly not.

Even the call-centre folk, based up there in sunny Kingston upon Hull, don't see your details. 118 800's bespoke software simply shows your name and whether a connection can be made. The call centre already deals with directory enquiries, which is ironic, given that no-one in Hull can actually say "phone" properly.*

Telemarketers will be able to call you via the service, but only if they already have your name and know where you live, and only if you agree to talk to them after they've given their name. Besides which, if your details are already on a marketing list, they're going to get in touch anyway.

So your data is well protected. Sadly, it's also possibly wrong. We'd wager a good proportion of the data is out of date. 118 800 told us that it's constantly refreshing the database, and moving towards the ideal of a fully opt-in system, which will be inherently more reliable. The use of marketing data was basically a necessary evil to make sure there were some people in the database at launch. Other mobile directories, such as mobile118 are entirely opt-in, but don't have anywhere near the numbers. Swings and roundabouts, innit.

So who's going to use it? We reckon it's all a bit of a palaver for, say, someone trying to track down a contact to say they'll be late. We think it's more likely to be useful to people who are out and about and need to be contacted for work. Small businesses and contractors may find it useful. 118 800 is thinking along the same lines, with the ultimate goal being to base your location on where you work rather than where you live.

If you still want to opt out, just text E to 118 800. Standard network costs apply. If you want to know how you got on the database in the first place, simply contact the folks at 118 800 and they will, after verifying your identity, track back to see where they got your details from.

*They say "phern". It's hilarious.

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About the author

Rich Trenholm is a senior editor at CNET where he covers everything from phones to bionic implants. Based in London since 2007, he has travelled the world seeking out the latest and best consumer technology for your enjoyment.

 

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