History of Phone Directories: From the advent of the telephone to the digital era

The first functioning telephone was invented in 1876. It didn’t take long before people realized that their telephone lines were useless unless someone knew that they had one. Just two years later, the first telephone directory was made. The telephone directory had 50 New Haven, Connecticut businesses listed on a single sheet of cardboard. Within a few years, the idea of telephone directories spread and local listings were made which also included individuals.

These first telephone directories only listed names and addresses, not telephone numbers. Then, people did not dial telephone numbers to talk to someone; they would dial to get an operator, ask for the person by name, and then the operator would make the connection. It wasn’t until the 1920s that mechanical dialing was innovated and people contacted others using telephone numbers, not operators.

Telephone directories were mostly made by the phone companies and issued to subscribers. For practicality, the phonebooks would list local people using all subscribers, not just their own. From the beginning, these listings were known as the White Pages. The Yellow Pages supposedly came about when a printing company ran out of white paper and decided to print the business listings on yellow paper instead.

The first internet phone directory was launched in France. This paved the way for other electronic telephone directories. The companies which issued telephone directories suddenly came across a major problem: since their information was in digital format, it could easily be copied and posted online for free access. The phonebook makers took legal action against the internet. A phonebook company called Rural Telephone Services filed a lawsuit against Feist Publications, a company which had copied about 4000 entries from the Rural publication. Rural claimed that Feist had violated their copyrights.

In this case of Feist v. Rural, it was decided that phonebooks were not protected by copyright law since you cannot copyright compilation work – and the information in phonebooks was not creative in nature. Thus, all people gained the right to copy information from phone directories and use it how they please. Since information in phonebooks was digitized, this was very easy to do and free online phone directories became very common.

One of the things which really changed when phone directories went online was that reverse phone directory listings became easy to access. Reverse phone directory listings were available before but they were not widely distributed like the standard White and Yellow Pages. If you wanted to reverse lookup a phone number, you had to go to your local library.

In the 90s, the popularity of cell phones created controversy with phone directories. Some groups tried to make a national cell phone directory but there was an uproar that this violated people’s privacy. Laws prohibited the formation of a national cell phone directory, unless listed people chose to opt in. However, the laws did allow for a reverse cell phone directory because the privacy ruling no longer applied once you had obtained a number, such as from someone calling you. Now, there are numerous free reverse cell phone directory listings which can be searched easily online.

How Phone Number People Search Directories Get Your Information

For decades, people have been able to do a reverse phone number search for landlines just by going to their local library and getting a copy of the reverse White Pages. But these searches would limit you to just the name and address of the person whose number you lookup up. If you go to a reverse phone search database online, you can find a wealth of more information. Just type in a landline or cell phone number to a people search and you may find out the person’s past addresses, criminal background, marital status, and favorite songs – amongst much more depending on the quality of the people search. Where does this information come from and how does it get to the phone search databases?

Nothing is Really Free
You know all of those “free” offers that you participated in – like the online survey which got you free access to a web zine or the toaster raffle you won after filling out a brief form. While these may not be costing you any money, they are costing you your privacy. Just about every single one of those free offers is run by a marketing firm which will collect all the personal information you give. They then compile this information into massive databases which can be sold to other groups, such as online people search websites or those reverse cell phone directories.

But shouldn’t it be illegal to gather and sell people’s personal information? While there are laws which protect people’s privacy, they are very limited. Instead, we get laws which protect businesses’ rights to know everything about us. Businesses use all the information gathered to target us more effectively – like when sending out circulars or deciding which ads to display on a website.

People Searches Gather All Data
Unlike retail businesses or advertisers which focus on certain aspects of your personal information in order to boost sales or run more effective campaigns, the people search websites sole mission is to have the most complete, accurate databases. So, they won’t just look at how many times your credit card was used to buy car parts, but a complete picture of all your activities which give an idea of your identity. The best phone number people search engines will gather data from:

  • Credit reporting bureaus
  • Insurance claims
  • Health reports
  • Checking accounts
  • Criminal background reports
  • Purchase returns
  • Public records

Now, there are laws which limit what a company can do with all this information. For example, a people search by cell number cannot disclose all the purchases you made in the past year – even if they know them. However, they can use the purchase reports to find out your address history. Then, they can cross reference their databases to see who else is at that address. A public record can confirm that the person living with you is your spouse. Then, they can sweep the web for social networking profiles which match your information. This web info can be openly displayed by the people search. So, just by typing in a cell phone number, you can end up with a whole picture of your life including your recent vacation pictures!

How to Get Your Name Out of Online Directories

Recently, I got a call on my cell phone from my long-lost friend from high school. While I was delighted to hear from this person, I was a bit disconcerted that she found my number so easily: it was right there on an internet people search and phone directory – along with my marital status, the number of children I had, and a record of my Auntie’s death two months ago. Since I value my privacy and take precautions to keep my personal information private, I was shocked that online phone directories knew so much about me. How did they find this information? More importantly, how could I get my name off the internet?

I quickly came to realize that deleting yourself from cyberspace is no easy task. You might as well say it is impossible because you’d have to spend a lot of money and time before you were deleted from phone directories and people searches all across the web.

Here is how I started: I did a search for myself at the leading people search websites as well as reverse cell phone lookups and phone directories. Yes, I had to pay money to see what dirt they had on me. Some had more information than others – including facts like where I’d gone on vacation last summer. Some of the people search websites had outright wrong information (which can be construed as a good or a bad thing from a privacy standpoint). I sent emails to each of the people search websites and reverse cell directories asking them to remove my name from the searches. Most were very accommodating and got my info down within a week. But did I really want to spend the rest of my life trying to get my name out of online directories?

Even though my attempt to get my name out directories was unsuccessful in the long-term scheme of things, it did give me insight to how these people search engines work and thus how you can avoid getting on them in the first place. These people searches and the reverse cell phone search websites buy information lists from marketing and credit reporting companies. If you have ever filled out a form for a free giveaway in a store, taken an online survey, or applied for credit, then your personal information can end up in a people search directory. The most advanced people search engines now cross reference your data with social networking profiles so they can get a very complete picture of you.

Once you are in a people search results or have your number in a reverse cell directory, it is nearly impossible to get yourself off. So, you should instead put your efforts into limiting the amount of information they can find out about you. Never give out your cell phone number or personal information unless you really have to – and then make sure you understand the data collector’s privacy policy so they don’t just go and sell off your personal info to online directories!

Cheating Spouse? Reverse Cell Directory Uncovers the Truth

The days of sniffing your husband’s collar for perfume are over! In today’s world where information flows freely, it is easy to find out exactly what someone has been up to – including if he or she has been cheating! There are numerous applications and reverse cell phone directories which can help you uncover the details.

Monitoring Cell Phone Use
People like to think that their cell phone use is completely private. For the most part, cell phones enjoy a sense of privacy that we don’t get with our landlines. You can take your cell phone anywhere to have a discussion and delete all records of the call. If you really want anonymity, then you can just buy a prepaid disposable cell phone. To date, there is no national cell phone directory where you have to worry about your number being disclosed.

Cells phones are not impervious to invasions of privacy though. There are special applications which have been designed just to discreetly monitor all activity on a cell phone. Most of these were designed for monitoring kids’ or employee cell phone use, but it goes without saying that a lot of suspicious spouses have also used these applications. All you have to do is upload them to your spouse’s phone when he/she is not around. The app will send all cell activity – messages, call logs, pictures and videos taken, emails – to a website where you can log on and get access.

Find Out Who the Mistress/Mister Is!
These cell phone monitoring apps can be very useful but there are limits. They will not tell you with whom your spouse is communicating – just phone numbers. Let’s say that you notice your husband has had a lot of late-night, 1-minute phone calls with an unknown number. You can’t be 100% sure that he is cheating since it may be business related or may even be a relative calling. A reverse cell phone directory can sort this out for you.

Just type the number into the reverse phone lookup and you will get the name and address of the person’s whose number it is. Keep in mind that the basic free reverse phone lookup services don’t give you cell numbers and their results are usually outdated. If you want accuracy, then you will have to pay for a subscription to a reverse cell directory. These provide much more information, and some even give people search info too. You may be able to find out not only the name and address of the person your spouse is cheating with, but also work history, marital history, and other clues.

Invasion of Privacy or Much-Needed Service?
There is a lot of controversy surrounding these cell phone monitoring apps and reverse phone directories: are they invasions of privacy or much-needed services? Be cautious before putting one of these apps on your spouse’s phone because, if he/she finds out, you could harm your relationship. But, if your spouse is cheating, the information you get from the app and reverse phone directory can help you get out of a bad marriage and get what you are entitled to in court.