1996-12-29 - Au Revoir to Yahoo’s reverse telephone number lookup service

Header Data

From: “Dennis S.” <dws@gonif.com>
To: cypherpunks@toad.com
Message Hash: f24b5923019e83cc28a61032ba985ed45b403494cc7f85bd3a9c9d9e3249ceb3
Message ID: <32C5D3F0.6691BBB7@gonif.com>
Reply To: N/A
UTC Datetime: 1996-12-29 11:57:37 UTC
Raw Date: Sun, 29 Dec 1996 03:57:37 -0800 (PST)

Raw message

From: "Dennis S." <dws@gonif.com>
Date: Sun, 29 Dec 1996 03:57:37 -0800 (PST)
To: cypherpunks@toad.com
Subject: Au Revoir to Yahoo's reverse telephone number lookup service
Message-ID: <32C5D3F0.6691BBB7@gonif.com>
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain

Below is a letter I recently sent to Yahoo regarding the discontinuation
of their reverse telephone number lookup service.

[ http://www.yahoo.com/docs/info/people_faq.html#numbers ]

Dear Yahoo:

When I saw your reverse-number lookup had disappeared, I was surprised, 
and over the past several days have grown angry about it.  I wouldn't 
even be able to say I was angry at Yahoo, it would be nice for Yahoo to 
show backbone, but that is definitely something "above and beyond" what 
could be expected of a company such as yours, I am an admin and I 
certainly know what it feels like when a user puts up a controversial web 
page (or spams, or whatever).

The thing that really angers me is that large corporations and 
institutions, and upper class people already have access to not just 
reverse lookup capability for listed numbers, but for unlisted numbers as 
well.  I can get a CD-ROM for the type of service you were selling from a 
store for $100 or so, and unlike yours, can use it to easily created junk 
mailing lists etc.  And for more money I can get access to people's 
unlisted numbers from on-line services and other sources, plus a lot more 

I should point out here that your service was useful to me for 
non-"nefarious" purposes.  For example, I often have phone numbers 
written on scraps of paper with no indication as to who/what the number 
is.  I suppose my co-workers and I should always write down the name of 
everyone we're calling back over it, even if it isn't necessary at that 
moment, but such is life.  Reverse lookup helped decode these numbers, 
mysterious numbers on my phone bill, and so forth.

I can understand the people who wander onto your page and dislike the 
fact that people can get their name and address from their telephone 
number.  But that is _not_ the issue, because corporations and people who 
can afford to pay $300 for "Tickle Me Elmo" already has access to that
information, and even more which is not even in the public domain.  The issue
is that this information is being taken away from people who can not afford
it.  What's wrong with giving the average lower/middle class person access to
that information?  Well, obviously a lot to some people.  With all the hubbub
over whether or not naked girls will be displayed on our screens, at 
least in the U.S., the more dull background maneuvers - the shutdown of 
anon.penet.fi, the continued mess of encryption export, CyberSitter's 
secret censorship of political content etc., forever creep forward.  When 
all is said and done, you were simply giving less privileged individuals access 
to powerful information.

Well, these types of letters can run on fairly long, I've tried to 
keep it as brief as possible while still containing my points.  As I said 
in the beginning, I do not really blame Yahoo for this, I think some people 
must have been too flustered in getting the access to power which had
previously been unknown to them, and blamed their confusion and fear of it on
Y(ah)ou.  You might even say the effort was valiant to begin with.  I 
wish I had the resources to purchase a reverse database quarterly in 
order to give it away free (or maybe even ad-sponsored, how else would I pay 
it?) on the web, plus the costs of web hosting, possible legal costs 
etc., but alas, I do not.  I forget what the title of John Markoff's 
article on the closing of Stallman's free account base at ai.mit.edu, so 
I'll just say Au Revoir reverse lookup, I wish I could say I'm waiting 
for your return, but I suspect I shall be seeing more incidents like 
yours in the future.

Dennis Sheil