Is 118800 a red herring?

You know what? I’m actually starting to feel twinges of sympathy for the folks at Connectivity. There are two pieces in the Guardian devoted to the suspension of their mobile directory enquiries services, one from yesterday and one from today.

Now, I’m not trying to argue that basing the service on an “opt out” principle was a good idea – it wasn’t. But at least Connectivity set it up in such a way that you would first find out that someone had looked you up, then have the opportunity to decide whether or not to take the call, and then have the option of asking to be removed from the list. All this would happen without the requesting party being told your number. So in a way, there was at least a certain amount of privacy-friendliness built into the protocol. Whether that made it a good idea for Connectivity to be sitting on a database of numbers which might get shared with other service providers is another question entirely.

However, any slight twinges of sympathy at Connectivity’s plight are (and should be) rapidly displaced by a concern that all this high-profile coverage is distracting us from a more significant issue: namely, the means by which Connectivity were able to populate their directory in the first place. As I’ve suggested above, the way they set up their enquiry protocol show at least some concern for the data subject’s privacy. The same cannot be said for those data brokers who handed over their subscriber lists to Connectivity in the first place.

It’s just that, as they are not in a part of the food chain which is normally visible to the data subject, they don’t come under the same kind of scrutiny as the company which delivers a service direct to the consumer.

For all the focus on Connectivity, we should not pass up on this opportunity to shine the spotlight on the behaviour and regulation of the intermediaries who made Connectivity’s business model possible.