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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.

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