An Exploration of Online Cell Phone Lookup Services, Part 1
Are these services invading your privacy and mine?
I recently took notice of all the online cell phone lookup services available and decided to check them out to see two things. First, I wanted to find out how much of my private information they were giving out, and second I wanted to see how accurate the services were. So I looked at five of the top cell phone lookup search results I found in Google.
The first thing I discovered is that these cell lookup services aren't really giving much of anything away, and they aren't free cell phone lookup services. The only free part is that they will tell you that they found the number. A few of them tell you what city and state the number is in, and perhaps what the carrier is.
The first cell lookup service I tried was Intelius. I plugged in my number, the site showed me a page that said it had a search in progress that was looking up my number, and then it showed me the result, which was very meager information. It told me that the number belonged to a cell phone (duh) and correctly named the county in which I live. It also gave the longitude and latitude of the town where I live and showed the spot on a map. Curiously, the spot it pointed to was the center of town, while I live outside of town.
The site then promised to tell me the owner's name (my name) and details, "current and historical information" (whatever that means), the owner's cell phone and other phone numbers, and it would verify the owner's address and connection status via "public utility", but it would only share this information for a fee. When I clicked to find out what the fee was, it showed me a page that said, "GUARANTEE: No Results, No Charge!" Immediately after that, it said, in very hard-to-read letters, "Report includes when available:" followed by the following list of items:
I was particularly disturbed to see the item, "non-published numbers", which I took to mean unpublished land lines rather than cell phones. My land line number is currently published, but if I had an unpublished number, I know I wouldn't be very happy to see it listed on a site like this. Of course, this raises the question of how many unlisted numbers Intelius actually has?
They promised to reveal whatever they had of the above information for $4.95, but I could also buy their 99 cent special along with an "identity protect" trial. They didn't give any more details about what "identity protect" was, but it struck me as being some kind of protection racket. After all, it was their own site that was promising to release my private information, for a fee of course. It sounded like they were promising not to reveal my own private information if I paid them a periodic fee. What's worse is that they didn't say anything about what this "service" entailed. So, just for the fun of it, I clicked the Add To Cart button for that item, and they took me to a page where they said that for a monthly membership fee of $19.95 plus tax I could try their identity monitoring program, which would include an instant credit report, social security number monitoring, credit and debit card monitoring, bank account monitoring, email fraud alerts, public records monitoring, a customizable "watch list" (whatever that was), $1 million in ID theft insurance, junk mail opt-out (which sounds like they want to monitor and control my emails too), and credit card offer opt-out.
Needless to say, by this time I was becoming pretty darn suspicious of all this. I mean, the company that seemed to be the biggest threat to my identity privacy was the same one who seemed to be willing to publish all of my private info for 99 cents and who would charge me $240 a year to monitor every valuable thing I own, which would give them complete access to all my account numbers, social security number, contact information, etc., etc. This was what they thought of as a good deal?
Last Update: 7/16/2011