Key lawmakers oppose wireless phone list

  • Associated Press
  • Thursday, June 17, 2004 9:00pm
  • Business

MENLO PARK, Calif. – Sheila Vreeburg has entrusted her cellphone number to very few people – her family, close friends and her veterinarian. If she could keep it that way, she would.

After all, Vreeburg, an insurance agent, has kept her home phone number unlisted for decades and directs her mail to a post office box. Her cellphone number is even more sacred.

This kind of passion for privacy is prevalent in Western states, and that could signal an uphill battle for proponents of a national cellphone directory.

Nationwide, slightly more than a third of Americans have unlisted home numbers, but in California, Nevada, Arizona, Oregon and Washington, about half the people choose not be listed in phone directories. They pay as much as $2.66 a month to keep their home numbers private.

The wireless industry, meantime, has promised it will submit to the 411 directory the mobile phone numbers of only those customers who grant their carriers permission to do so. But to be sure, some federal lawmakers want to mandate that.

“We have to protect the privacy of cellphone users, and we want to have the rules of the game set down here … to ensure that cellphone users do not face an onslaught of unwanted calls,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who introduced the Wireless 411 Privacy Act along with Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa.

They’re not just worried about privacy invasion. There’s a pocketbook factor: Cellphone users must pay for many of the calls they receive.

Under the proposed bill, cellular carriers must first get existing customers to authorize the inclusion of their mobile numbers in the 411 database. For new customers, carriers must clearly and conspicuously give them the option to decline.

The bill also would ensure that no customer need pay a fee for having cell phones unlisted.

The Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, which hopes to compile the wireless directory by the end of the year, says it considers the legislation unnecessary given the industry’s vows.

In addition, wireless carriers – with the exception of Verizon Wireless, which is not participating out of customer privacy concerns – say they won’t sell the wireless directory to third parties, put it in a printed telephone book or post it on the Internet – any of which would make it easy for phone numbers to get in the hands of telemarketers.

But consumers like Vreeburg are skeptical that such promises would effectively block unwanted calls and unscrupulous advertisers.

“Even though I’m unlisted, I still get telemarketer calls. On a cell phone, it’d be ridiculous,” Vreeburg said.

Privacy advocates say it would be in a wireless carrier’s best interest to keep their word – and keep their customer numbers out of telemarketers’ hands.

Unlike their terrestrial counterparts, cellular carriers know their customers can easily flee to a competitor, said Chris Hoofnagle, associate director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

The Washington D.C.-based advocacy group supports the federal wireless 411 privacy bill.

“Without baseline consumer protection legislation, privacy provisions can change as quickly as business models change,” Hoofnagle said. A federal law passed in 1991 already prohibits telemarketing calls to cell phones, but “creating a directory heightens the risk of misuse of information,” he said.

Despite the reluctance from many customers, the wireless industry contends the proposed wireless 411 directory was born of consumer demand – with small businesses most interested.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Business

The Westwood Rainier is one of the seven ships in the Westwood line. The ships serve ports in the Pacific Northwest and Northeast Asia. (Photo provided by Swire Shipping)
Westwood Shipping Lines, an Everett mainstay, has new name

The four green-hulled Westwood vessels will keep their names, but the ships will display the Swire Shipping flag.

Lead climbers head up their respective routes at Vertical World North on Monday, Nov. 20, 2023, in Lynnwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Beginner’s ascent: A newcomer’s guide to indoor climbing

Indoor climbing gyms in and around Snohomish County offer thrills without winter chills.

Alexis Burroughs holds a bigleaf maple leaf while guiding her participants through sensory observation during a forest bathing session Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023, at Lord Hill Regional Park near Snohomish, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
To restore human bond with nature, locals lead forest bathing sessions

A yoga instructor in Bothell and Adopt a Stream in Everett say the meditative practice evokes emotion, health benefits.

Instructor Gael Gebow checks her stopwatch while tracking her group’s exercises during her Boot Camp fitness class Monday, Nov. 13, 2023, at the YMCA in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
YMCA fitness instructor challenges, empowers Everett residents

Gael Gebow has made inclusivity and healthy living her focus in 23 years at the YMCA.

A view of the Broadway construction site of Compass Health’s new mental health facility on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Compass Health dedicates Everett block to housing and behavioral health services

The “state-of-the-art” project is set to total over $90M. The nonprofit has asked for public support.

More than 150 people attend a ribbon cutting event on Nov. 16, 2023 celebrating the completion of Innovation Hall at the University of Washington Bothell and Cascadia College campus. The building, which highlights STEM instruction and research, opens to students in January. Credit: Tara Brown Photography/UW Bothell
New science, math facility opens in January at UW Bothell

Innovation Hall is the first new building to be constructed at the Bothell university campus in 10 years.

Rairdon Auto Group acquires Pignataro VW in Everett

Everett VW dealership is the 12th for the Rairdon Group, which marks 30 years in business this year.

A Keyport ship docked at Lake Union in Seattle in June 2018. The ship spends most of the year in Alaska harvesting Golden King crab in the Bering Sea. During the summer it ties up for maintenance and repairs at Lake Union. (Keyport LLC)
In crabbers’ turbulent moment, Edmonds seafood processor ‘saved our season’

When a processing plant in Alaska closed, Edmonds-based business Keyport stepped up to solve a “no-win situation.”

Angela Harris, Executive Director of the Port of Edmonds, stands at the port’s marina on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024, in Edmonds, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Leadership, love for the Port of Edmonds got exec the job

Shoring up an aging seawall is the first order of business for Angela Harris, the first woman to lead the Edmonds port.

The Cascade Warbirds fly over Naval Station Everett. (Sue Misao / The Herald file)
Bothell High School senior awarded $2,500 to keep on flying

Cascade Warbirds scholarship helps students 16-21 continue flight training and earn a private pilot’s certificate.

Rachel Gardner, the owner of Musicology Co., a new music boutique record store on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024 in Edmonds, Washington. Musicology Co. will open in February, selling used and new vinyl, CDs and other music-related merchandise. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
New Edmonds record shop intends to be a ‘destination for every musician’

Rachel Gardner opened Musicology Co. this month, filling a record store gap in Edmonds. owner Tom Harrison at his brick and mortar storefront on Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Burst pipe permanently closes downtown Everett toy store

After a pipe flooded the store, MyMyToystore in downtown Everett closed. Owner Tom Harrison is already on to his next venture.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.