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August 3, 2006

Reverse Phonebook Lookup

Back in 2002 (and later) people were worried about a new feature of Google:

Andrew Cory recently emailed me to say that you can get a person's name, address, and directions to their home by simply typing their phone number into Google.

I tried it with our phone number and it didn't work. However, I tried it with another phone number and it worked immediately. Just try it--go to Google and enter a phone number. Drop the dashes and just enter it without spaces, i.e. "7345551212".

I don't know how many people are affected but this but frankly it strikes me as pretty creepy. It also may not be illegal, but I suspect that it probably should be. There's a presumption of privacy when you give out your phone number, you don't expect people to find out where you live simply based on it--indeed, it's already illegal for phone companies to give out this kind of info.

The reverse phonebook lookup allows you to enter a phone number with area code and find the address of the person or business. People thought it's an invasion of privacy to just enter someone phone number and find such precious details. But Google saw it in another perspective:

The intent of all of our services--from Google Web Search to Google News--is to organize and provide easy access to publicly available information. Due to the vast amount of data that we aggregate, many individuals become aware via a Google search that their personal information is publicly available. For this reason, we make it easy to remove your listing from our PhoneBook.

Google has combined two services already available: reverse phone directory look-ups and mapping/driving directions with MapQuest and people thought it's something new.

This feature, available only for the US, is a part of a bigger project that allows you to find listings for US residences and businesses. You can use one of the following formats for residences:

* first name, last name, city
* first name, last name, state
* first name, last name, area code
* first name, last name, zip code
* phone number, including area code
* last name, city, state
* last name, zip code

... and for businesses:

* business name, city, state
* business name, zip code
* phone number, including area code

For example: John Smith, CA or Google, Mountain View, CA.

What seems to be intriguing is that the reverse phonebook lookup doesn't work anymore. You can't enter a phone number and find the address. Has Google finally decided this is a privacy breach and silently removed the feature? Of course, there's a great to chance to find a business by entering the phone number (they all have contact pages), but what about the persons? The feature is still available in White Pages.

Update: I tried to use this from my non-US location and with a US proxy.


  1. They should do that for other countries... ;-)

    (operator "phonebook:")

  2. Works for my parent's number, but the area code is wrong. Haha. My number yields no result.

  3. Still works for me, including my address. I also tried my parents number and it works as well. I noticed that there is a link for the "phonebook removal form".

  4. Works for me, too.
    Its nice to find out who called you if you don't know their number.

  5. I see. Does anyone know why the feature can't be seen internationally? I tried this with proxies like that show the US version of Google. I tried even with Google's phone number (one of them).

  6. Well, you do reverse phone number lookup through White Pages:

  7. ive know about this "hack" is what im calling it for a long time now.
    Anyway, this hack only works with listed phone numbers.
    That is, if you pay so that your phone number is not listed in the big phone book the phone company gives out every year, it wont work for you.
    This also only works with land line phones, not cell phones

    This is also, perfectly legal, Google is taking public domain information, and making it easier to fiind, (which, is Google's mission).

    Sure its creepy, but, ive come to terms with it because i beleive that Google will rule the world one day, and ive accepted that.

  8. I have been using this "Feature" for I think two years now. In fact, whenever I recieve a phone call from a number I do not recognize, and I'm in front of my computer, I usually type the number into google to see who it is it works like a charm!

    Also, Google has just made Reverse Lookup easier to find and use, Verizon's SuperPages, and ATT's online phone directory (cant remember what its called right now) have offered reverse lookup for years, except it's just not as easily accessible as simply running a search via google.

    Since it only works on published numbers, there should be no concern for people's privacy. If you're that concerned w/ your privacy, you are going to tell the phone company to give you an unlisted phone number - if you don't.. Well what do you expect??

  9. We have always been able to do this in Sweden, and I have never thought of it as bad. I mean, why not? The information is out there. You would have to search the whole phone book for the right number, this just makes it faster.

    As Andrew said, I want to know who is calling me. If you want to keep anonymous, you will probably already have a secret number.

  10. I think it is an INvasion of Privacy!!!!
    Fortunately, BOTH my land phone and cell phone are unlisted.
    They can do it with cell phones now.
    It is a money maker, because ReversePhone pays Google for their ad.
    And, if you want your number removed, you must pay a fee...

  11. Even before Google in my home city we had special programs for searching people by name, phone number, surname or address. Especially it's very easy to find phone numbers which start with 0800 numbers, but usually it's not private numbers, it's business contacts and they don't need to hide it.

  12. With all do respect. Good grief people, how paranoid can you get about the harrows of the monster called internet???? I've seen this same moronic ploy used over and over, telling people that pedophiles or burglars can find out where you live just by putting your name into a google search, etc. You do know that you are only picking up a phone book RIGHT???? And reverse phone books have been around almost as long a phonebooks have. I'm over 60 years old and I can go to the local library and find the phone number and address from back when I was a kid plus they had reverse directories back then also. The only difference that I can see from then to now is back then, every minimum waged secretary or wack-O or burglar or pedophile back then could look you up in a reverse directory at any company or library and now those wack-Os don't have to turn actual pages but now have to only click. Want to know something that is real? You are asked all the time to give your mothers maiden name and other so called personal information to verify your identity for banking or opening up accounts, etc. Right? Well do you realize this is also public knowledge and it is in the news paper archives or any genealogy CD or records or Court House records? It is the paper records you need to worry about because they are here/there for ever. Google and a lot of other internet things may not exist a 100 years from now but those phonebooks and all those public records I mentioned earlier will be here even longer. Jack2

  13. Is it really true that one can find any phone number using google services?

  14. Hello guys,

    Iam having the name & address of my friend can i find the Phone number

  15. This only works with landline numbers as far as i know. i havent been able to find cell phones using this technique

  16. hi, I wasn’t aware about this method before reading your blog …I was searching for the method to know unknown caller ID ...Fortunately I found your blog and now I know where to actually look for? thanks

  17. Does this method work with 0845 numbers and alike? I've not tried it as of yet, but it's quite an old post.