It launched in a flurry of controversy over privacy issues, but within weeks of going live the 118800 mobile phone online directory service has been suspended. Although the official reason for the, so far, 3 day unavailability of the website is being given as "undertaking major developments" to the beta service, off the record reports suggest that the real reason could be the sheer number of people logging on to request that their own numbers are removed.
The holding page at 118800.co.uk currently reads:
"The 118 800 service for mobile phone connections is currently unavailable - from this website and by phone - whilst we undertake major developments to our 'Beta Service' to improve the experience for our customers. We'll be back as soon as possible with the new improved service. All ex-directory requests made by people in our directory to date are being processed. There will be no need to resend these requests. And we will take further ex-directory requests when the service resumes. We will not be taking ex-directory requests by phone or text whilst the service is not operational."
Despite being given the OK on privacy grounds by the Information Commissioner's Office in the UK, the 118800 has not been warmly welcomed by privacy campaigners and many individuals alike. Not least because it purchased something in the region of 16 million mobile phone numbers from market research firms and online businesses that require registration in return for services supplied. 118800 itself has always argued that there is nothing to fear, no invasion of privacy, as it does not reveal mobile numbers but rather connects callers directly for a fee. Well that's OK then. It also argues that it has not included mobiles registered to children, but of course as many (and quite possibly the large majority I would imagine) of such devices are purchased by parents for their kids such steps will not prevent children from getting unwanted and potentially worrying calls. There is also the argument that you have to agree to accept a call from 118800 before the caller will be connected. However, I really don't want to waste my time saying no to these people thanks very much. Connectivity, the company behind 118800, also insists that all the customer information it has was already in the public domain anyway. In which case, one wonders, why purchase it?
The bottom line is, as someone who has just torn up his mobile phone contract with Vodafone and moved to O2 partly due to unwanted marketing calls at stupid hours, that I do not want to be 'opted in' by 118800. My home number is ex-directory for a reason. I do not give out my mobile phone number willy nilly, for a reason. I don't expect to find myself included in such a directory without my consent and by that I mean my consent to be included in the 118800 directory rather than my consent for some online shop to hold the number when I have purchased something, for example.
Not that I have the choice to opt out right now, with the website down and the company not taking opt-out calls by telephone while it implements those 'major developments' to the service.