June 10, 2017
A UK directory enquiries service will allow customers to request the mobile numbers of strangers from next week.
Anyone calling 118800 will be able to pay £1 to have their call connected to any mobile phone number in the directory database.
The company said it currently holds 15 million numbers in its database, and claims the numbers are freely available for purchase in the public domain.
In addition, visitors to the 118800 website can type in the name and location of the person they’re looking for.
The site will not give out mobile numbers, but will offer customers the opportunity to pay £1 for a text to be sent to the person being searched. The text will contain the customer’s number, and if the person being searched wants to get in touch, they are free to do so.
Privacy campaigners fear the service sets a chilling precedent.
Legal observer Chris Watson said: “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.”
He added that mobile phone numbers could be now be given out “to anybody under the sun”.
The firm operating the 118800 service claims it is acting ethically by providing the service, and offering consumers what they want.
“We are accessing data in the same way that lots of other companies do for marketing purposes,” said Shona Foster, marketing director at 118800.
“The difference is that we don’t use that data for marketing purposes and we don’t sell it on to anybody else.”
Research by 118800 found that nearly two thirds of Brits are in favour of mobile listings being included in directory enquiries provided the service does not give out the number.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has approved the system, and anyone can opt out by texting ‘E’ to 118800.