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Privacy and the AnyWho Directory

If you’ve been on the Internet very long you’ve probably heard about several threats to your privacy. Cookies, Viruses, Java, ActiveX, JavaScript and other things are often the targets of wide and varied claims. We’re not going to get into the validity or non-validity of these issues here, but may do so in a later issue. What we do want to concern ourselves with is online directories. You’ve probably seen these — you enter a name or address and the directory returns a phone number for you. These directories are usually advertised as a good way to find long lost friends among other things. Spend a few minutes going by these places some night and just see what kind of information they do or don’t have stored on you. You’ll find a list of the directories at the end of this article.

My wife heard about an online directory called AnyWho. You can find it at:
if you want to have a look. One of the major features of AnyWho is a reverse telephone directory. The concept is simple — you enter a street address and AnyWho returns the phone number for you. But it doesn’t stop there! AnyWho goes a little farther by allowing you to enter a street name and then returning all of the residents of that street along with their addresses and phone numbers.

My wife tried it out and found two of her family’s listings, which is what we expected her to get. The she tried her sister and found both of her numbers. Next she typed in her street name and was greeted with a full listing of her family and all of her neighbors. How comforting to know that someone can easily gather this much information on you in such a short time.

AnyWho states on their main page that directories of this type have been around for a long time in many formats. Most every city has what’s known as the City Directory (also called a “Reverse Directory”) which is used extensively by door-to-door salespeople and telemarketers. To us the issue isn’t availability, it’s accessibility. In the past you had to go out of your way to locate this information, it wasn’t just handed to you on a silver platter. The result of this being that the merely curious didn’t access the information.

For example, since AT&T owns AnyWho, try calling AT&T and try to get phone numbers for a given street in the US. To AnyWho’s credit they will let you update or unlist yourself. But here’s the rub, you have to go there and unlist yourself. You could spend a great deal of time removing yourself from all of the directories on the Internet, assuming you could find them all. AnyWho mentions that the way to stay out of these directories is to have an unpublished number. Unpublished is not the same as unlisted and you must ask for it. We’re not opposed to directory listings on the Internet — we’ve used them ourselves at times. It’s the concept of publishing information about people that was previously not so easy to get that makes us uneasy. What other databases will be coming on line in the future? And lest you think we are picking on AnyWho, the concerns in this article apply to all online databases and directories including Yahoo, Bigfoot, Database America, and the rest.