118 800: First UK mobile phone directory doesn't connect with us

118 800 is a new directory of mobile phone numbers, which sounds like a great idea -- but we've spotted some fundamental flaws

Mobile phones: they're great, aren't they? You can be in contact wherever you are, you can send text messages, and have funny ringtones and all sorts. A straw poll of the Crave team reveals that while we all still have a landline phone, it's used for two things: supplying an Internet connection, and for calling our mums on Sunday.

The rise of the mobile may have freed us from the shackles of the landline, but it's made it near-impossible to track people down on their primary number: the one in their pocket. Until now: 118 800 is the UK's first mobile directory.

The service is now live at 118800.co.uk, and you can dial 118 800 from 18 June. The idea is, you simply say the person's name and the town in which they live, and you'll be connected for one measly English pound.

Great, you say. How do I sign up? Actually, chances are you already have. You know when you sign up to a service and there's a box you can tick to opt in or out of a mailing list with offers from third parties? It usually says something along the lines of, "If you don't not want your information to be not omitted from being not left off this list, tick this box. Not." If you do tick the box -- or don't tick it, we're never sure -- your information goes on a mailing list which is sold to, well, whoever wants it, basically. 118 800 has gathered a bunch of these lists and culled the mobile phone numbers to create a directory of mobile numbers.

Woah woah woah -- what about our privacy and civil liberties an' that? On the upside, 118 800 never gives out your number. If you search via the Web site, your number is texted to the person you're looking for, and they can decide whether to call you back. Calling the service works like a reverse-call service, in that you ring 118 800 and say who you want to speak to, at which point 118 800 connects straight from your call to that person, and asks if they want to be connected to you.

But the fact remains that millions of people are in the directory without knowing it. The company behind 118 800, Connectivity, has been working on the service since 2007, when the plan was to contact everyone in the directory to confirm if they want to opt in. Guess whether that's still part of the plan (hint: it's not). You now have to opt out by text message -- charged at standard network rate, natch -- the first time you're searched for.

Privacy aside, the big issue is how reliable this data is. Mailing lists like this have a half-life based on when you signed up to the original service, and when the information was bought by 118 800. The site requires you to search by area as well as name -- and is quite specific: 'London' is too broad -- so it's possible the information on the lists is out of date.

In fact, this Craver had to search back through two old addresses in order to find himself, and he last moved over a year ago. We were able to track down two members of the Crave team, but as of the time of writing they haven't yet received the notification text messages. As 118 800 quite reasonably doesn't give out numbers, we're not sure if these numbers are even right.

Of course the service is still new, so we're going to hold back from giving it a complete kicking. It's a good idea, and given time and sufficient opt-ins the directory should be more reliable. We'll be meeting with 118 800 next week, where we'll discuss these concerns. Meanwhile, if you want to cut down on marketing calls, you can register with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS). Also, speaking of mobile phones, there's a new iPhone out, or something.

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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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