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120 - Google and Phone Numbers

The Google search engine has a built-in feature which you may not be aware of. Without question, this feature can be very useful, but it can also be cause for concern.

Here's the feature:
Type any ten-digit phone number into the Google search line, hit search, and up pops the person's name, full address and links to two popular mapping services to draw a map to that address. If it's a company, the company name appears.

You should probably realize that this information has always been available to anyone who wanted to dig around a bit. However, Google has made it unbelievably easy to get. You can try this for yourself. Type in your own phone number, or several friends numbers, and see what pops up. Google has put the phone book on-line and then tied two popular mapping services directly to the address you find.

Was this information available before this?
Yes, it was. "Reverse phone books" have been available for many years. Businesses often used them for perfectly legitimate reasons. If you didn't happen to own or have access to a reverse phone book, there were publicly available sources for the information. Reverse phone books are exactly the same as standard phone books except that they are sorted numerically by phone number. It just makes it easy to look up when all you have is the phone number. Once you have an address, of course, locating the property on a map is not difficult. Still, having to make that much effort to find someone offered all of us at least a level of personal privacy and security. The obvious concern now, of course, is the ease with which a total stranger can find your house. For some people, knowing that any whacko who stumbles across your phone number can now get a map to your house, is disturbing. It used to take a more concerted effort, but no more. I love the convenience but the concern is valid too.

What to do if you're concerned -
There are two things you can do if you're concerned about your privacy or safety. Understanding that the source for the Google data is the phone book, you can elect to have an unlisted or unpublished phone number, effectively removing your number from the source data. The phone company will charge you for not being listed in the phone book, though I never understand why it works this way. It seems backwards to me. Here's the problem with this approach. Long term, it may well be part of your privacy strategy, but if you have once been published with this same number, databases such as Google's will not lose the number just because you removed it from the source data. In other words, they've already captured your information. Switching now to an unlisted/unpublished number will not cause it to be removed from the Google database. Next year's phonebook (minus your number) will be used to add data to the Google database, but not to remove data from the database.

The second alternative costs nothing and solves the Google problem now. Type your number into Google and look yourself up. Notice that a phone icon appears to the left of your name. Click on that icon and a new page appears. Scroll down the page until you see the following sentence:

"To have your residential or business phone and address information removed from the Google PhoneBook, click here."

Click where they indicate and follow the instructions to remove your listing from their database. I suggest that you follow-up by testing to be sure it worked. I would also suggest that you re-check periodically, just to be sure a new phone book has not added you back to the database.

You can use the feature whether you are listed or not -
I like this feature a lot, and use it frequently. How often have you found yourself speaking with someone on the phone when they give me a phone number they want you to have? I tend to jot that number down on whatever piece of paper is handy, and then go on with the conversation. A week later, I simply can't remember whose number that is. When did I write that number down? Am I done needing the number? I hate to admit how many times I do this. In the midst of the conversation, I forget to go back and add a name or reason for having the number. With Google, now I can just type the number in and have the person's name or the business name pop up. Very nice.

Then there is my business use. As you all know, my customers are often located in residential neighborhoods. When heading for a first time call, I routinely print out an Internet map to help me locate the address I need to find. The Google phone number lookup is the easiest way to quickly get the map I need. In fact, this has proven so convenient, I now use these maps to find friends homes or send directions to others to find my home.

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