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Data watchdog clears mobile phone directory

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The UK data watchdog has given the green light to a controversial directory of millions of mobile phone numbers, which launches next week.

News of the 118800 mobile directory raised privacy worries today, but the Information Commissioner's Office said it was satisfied it would comply with the law.

Start up firm Connectivity has bought lists of mobile phone numbers and addresses, which are typically used in the premium rate industry, to set up its service. The lists typically cost about 15 pence per record.

Brokers who trade such lists argue they are compiled from customers who agree to have their information used for marketing purposes. Anyone who does not want to be contacted via the mobile phone directory must opt out.

Connectivity will search its data if given a first name, surname and town, and connect a call for a £1 fee. The recipient must agree to take the call.

The ICO, which is responsible for enforcing the Data Protection Act and European Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations, described the directory as "privacy friendly" because Connectivity does not plan to disclose personal information to users. Insead, it will act as a middle man.

The ICO sent this statement:

Connectivity discussed their proposed service with the ICO and we have provided advice on compliance with the Data Protection Act (DPA) and Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR).

We understand that the service is privacy friendly in that it will only connect people when the recipient agrees to take the call and even then it will do so without divulging their number. We made it absolutely clear to Connectivity that they should not use numbers where there was any doubt about whether the consumer was happy for their information to be used in this way.

Connectivity is aware that the law requires them to remove any numbers relating to consumers who request that their information is removed from the directory service. Opting out of the service should be made as easy as possible for anyone who does not want their details to be used for the directory service.

A spokeswoman for the ICO said it believed Connectivity's use of direct marketing data was no different to other companies who use similar contact lists for cold calling.

Privacy campaigner Simon Davies, however, argued that the ability for individuals to contact people whose mobile number is in the database, despite the presence of a middle man, represented a greater invasion of personal space.

He quit as a consultant to Connectivity early in the directory's development when it became clear it would operate on an opt-out consent model. Davies said few would have imagined that agreeing to be contacted for marketing purposes might mean their number would be included in a directory usable by anyone.

While the ICO said it believes Connectivity's directory is the same as any other direct marketing list, the firm doesn't appear to agree. Several Reg readers registered with the Telephone Preference Service, which "is the central opt out register on which you can record your preference not to receive unsolicited sales and marketing telephone calls", have reported their mobile number is included in its directory. ®

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