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August 13, 2007

Do not call my cellphone

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 10:09 AM

My story today regarding Bellevue-based Intelius's claim that it has a fairly comprehensive cellphone directory brings up the question of privacy and how to retain it.

About two weeks ago, Intelius launched this new feature on its site; it claims that it will have about 240 million cellphone numbers in the next couple of weeks, or about the equivalent of every subscriber in the U.S.

Each one costs $15 to look up, so there's a little hurdle before people can go crazy looking up everyone they know.

Still, you ask: what can a subscriber do?

First off, if you aren't already in the database, be careful with your phone number going forward. Don't fill in your phone number on sweepstakes or forms that aren't going to a trusted source. Oftentimes, those companies will resell that information to another company.

Second, if Intelius does have your phone number, you can request to have it removed from the database. Intelius executive Ed Petersen said that the company will remove it if you fax a copy of your driver's license to verify who you are. In that case, you may want to black out everything but your picture and your name (being paranoid might be your best defense).

Third, add your cellphone number to the do-not-call list. There's been some debate about this in the past -- and it was exacerbated by a mass e-mail that urgently called for people to put their cellphone number on the list.

To be clear, there is a federal law that makes it illegal for telemarketers to call your cellphone whether on the list or not, so there's no emergency. However, if those telemarketers buy a list of numbers, and your cellphone number happens to be on it because it was combed from some third-party database, it wouldn't necessarily be identified as a cellphone number.

When the news that there is a so-called cellphone directory reached the CTIA -- The Wireless Association, the trade association was stumped. Folks there didn't know how a company could get such a comprehensive database.

Steve Largent, the former wide receiver for the Seahawks who is now CTIA's CEO, said such a comprehensive list was unlikely. But he was going to have his wife add her number to the do-not-call list just to be sure. The state's Attorney General said the idea wouldn't hurt, either.

It remains to be seen how accurate the database will be since Intelius is saying it will be more complete in the next couple of weeks. For now, Largent's number hasn't made it in, nor has a handful of numbers I tried before writing the story.

I also think there's a smaller number of people who would like their number listed. Intelius says it will fill those requests as well.

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Tricia Duryee
Tricia Duryee
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