Mobile Directory Enquiries: still controversial

There was much talk in the press in June about the 118 800 mobile directory enquiries service. Most of it regarded the service as controversial for both offering to find mobile users and for it’s opt out process. We reported on it at the time:  Privacy storm as directory 118 800 releases 15 million mobile numbers

Clearly the public were equally concerned, as the website was deluged by opt out requests. So many people, in fact, that the site went down. Not only that, the site is still offline, and explains that opt out requests cannot be taken through the site any longer.

What is the problem with 118 800?

The mobile directory service doesn’t seem to be in breach of any regulations: the 15 million numbers were obtained from opt in lists provided by brokers and research companies; they do not pass only mobile numbers – they simply contact the person you’re looking for on your behalf; they would not allow any marketing and they have an opt out service.

However, that isn’t the issue. The problem for mobile users is one of privacy. Mobiles are highly personal devices. We carry them with us almost all the time (even by our bedside), we store all our contacts on there and we text or call our loved ones from them. It seems that anything that appears to breach our perception privacy, regardless of whether it is within the regulations is met with understandable outrage and derision.

People were concerned that they had managed to get hold of their numbers. Though they appear have been obtained quite legitimately, most of us would want to give specific permission to have our mobile number used or forwarded.

118 800 didn’t help matters by having an over long and over complicated opt out service – you had to register on the site (when it was working) and wait many days for your number to be taken out. I’m sure this has not helped with the public suspicion of the service.

In the long run, I suspect the company simply don’t have a business model. £1 per enquiry is expensive for starters. And for that, they only try to contact the person for you. However, the additional mistrust means that many people will be put off using them. For example, if I use the service, will my mobile number be added to their database? Will I have to go through a complex opt out process?

From a mobile marketing standpoint, it shows the importance of clarity, simplicity and consent for any campaigns. Many people are happy to receive marketing information where there is a clear offer and benefit. However, they are only prepared to let that happen if they have specifically requested it.

In the meantime it will be interesting to see when the 118 800 site will reappear and how long the service will run for.

4 thoughts on “Mobile Directory Enquiries: still controversial

  1. Hi, im Neil from

    We do not sell or give data or personal details to anyone. We never ever give out any mobile numbers. We connect people who want or need to talk on the move using a system painstakingly designed to protect privacy.

    In the majority of cases it will be a friend or colleague who has lost your number or doesn’t have it on them and needs to get in touch. If you are contacted it will be by 118800 announcing the name of that person, or sending a text message with the name and number of the person trying to get in touch. It will then be up to you whether you want to speak to them or not.

    • Hi Neil

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I only wish you had taken the time to read the blog. I made it quite clear what the service was and that there was no apparrent breach of privacy. The key point that I made was regarding the public perception of privacy. In short, people take it very personally if they feel their mobile number has been compromised in some way. I’m sure you must be aware of that more than anyone else.
      I am happy to publish your comments if it is a considered response to the actual blog post. I think the whole subject of permissions and privacy in mobile is very interesting and would welcome constructive debate on the matter.



  2. Hi Mark,

    Thank you for publishing my comment and for your response. My comment was to address the issue of privacy in this blog post and to try to put any fears to rest by explaining how the service works and reiterating the fact that:

    “We do not sell or give data or personal details to anyone. We never ever give out any mobile numbers. We connect people who want or need to talk on the move” “using a system painstakingly designed to protect privacy.”

    • But that’s where I think the problem is. You can keep telling people that you don’t give out personal data, but they still feel their privacy has been invaded. Given the whole debacle around the launch of your service, I wonder if anyone will find your comments reassuring?
      Personally I think the only way to operate a mobile directory enquiries is the same as mobile marketing: have an explicit opt in initially, and a simple ex-directory removal process that is pretty much instant.

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