I googled my home phone number and it came back with my name,
address and phone listed under an area I live near. Not wanting my info
on the web, I contacted the directory listing service it appeared under
and according to them the phone company sold them my private
information. And, there’s really nothing they could do. Isn’t there any
law to protect us against selling private information?
First, we need to understand if your information is really private.
I’m guessing it’s not.
Then we need to understand whether or not you gave the utility
company implicit permission to sell your information. I’m guessing you
And you’re not alone.
Are you listed in your local phone directory?
If so, the information you allow to be printed there is publicly available, both in that physical phone directory and wherever the phone company chooses to reprint it. And that includes online.
With most search engines now indexing most on-line phone directories, it’s not at all unusual for a search on your information to return that information from such a directory.
And as you’ve seen, once you’re in one directory, the phone companies often sell that information to other directory services who also publish their information online. So now, as the result of a) having a phone, and b) being listed in a phone book, you now might well appear in multiple places on the internet.
Why is this so scary to people? I mean, you were in the phone book that anyone could pick up – why is this so different?
Two reasons I can think of:
Phone books are (typically) local in reach. Meaning that it’s difficult (though not impossible) to access a phone book from one region while you’re in another. Getting a New York City phone book in Lagos, Nigeria is much more difficult than getting one in New York City itself.
Phone books are difficult to search. They’re organized to be searched by name, period. The internet, on the other hand, can be searched any number of ways, including by name, by address and of course by phone number. From anywhere on the planet.
So while the publicity of information hasn’t really changed, the ease with which it can be used has changed dramatically, and that’s kinda scary.
Is it legal?
I Am Not A Lawyer
With that out of the way, I’ll guess yes – at least if your phone number isn’t “unlisted”.
When you got your phone in part of the paperwork you likely agreed to have your phone number published in the phone book. So your phone company got your permission to put it in their books, and on their web directory.
And if you’re fortunate, also in there will be the steps required to “opt out”.
But there’s a problem with opting out at this point: it’s too late. Your information is already out there. Even if you were able to remove it from one directory or another, it’s still out there in who-knows-how-many others, and in archives and other locations. There’s simply no way to pull it back from all the places it could be.
If this really is an issue for you, then I have only one suggestion: change your phone number, and make it unlisted from the start. An unlisted number shouldn’t be showing up in random directories all over the internet.
And much like your email address, make sure you take care when providing your phone number online. If you post it in a public forum, for example, you may well find that post – and a trail back to you – in a search engine someday.