Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

RCR Wireless News reported that Bellevue-based Intelius, Inc., shelved its cell phone directory service after being battered by public officials, corporate executives and consumers over privacy concerns. Here’s a quote:

“As a company, we have strived to be at the forefront of innovation,” said Liz Murray, a spokesperson for Intelius. “We realize that in this instance we may have been ahead of our time. Wireless carriers attempted to develop a similar product a few years ago and found the market wasn’t ready; it’s clear that the market is still not ready. We always listen carefully to our customers, which is why we recently discontinued our cell phone directory.”

Attorney General Rob McKenna requested legislation this session that would require any person in the business of compiling, marketing or selling phone numbers for commercial purposes to obtain a consumer’s express opt-in consent before publishing his or her wireless phone number in a directory.

“Consumers believe that their cell phone numbers are private and are generally annoyed by unsolicited calls that burn valuable minutes,” McKenna said. “We already have a law that requires wireless carriers to obtain a subscriber’s permission before listing a number in a directory. This bill expands that rule to other businesses that publish directories.”

With Intelius’ cell phone directory attracting national media attention, sources including PC Magazine reported this week that Verizon Wireless threatened to sue the company if it did not stop data mining of wireless telephone numbers.

Intelius is waiting to go public. The company recently filed for an initial public offering with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

The state Senate Committee on Consumer Protection and Housing held a public hearing earlier this week on SB 6374, prime-sponsored by Sen. Eric Oemig, D-Kirkland. Rep. Jay Rodne, R-Snoqualmie, introduced a companion bill, HB 2074, in the House. Also this week, the House Appropriations Committee heard a similar bill, SHB 2479,  introduced by Rep. Dawn Morrell, D-Puyallup.

And there’s movement in Congress. Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) have introduced legislation intended to protect subscribers from being listed without their approval in a national directory they believe the cellular industry is compiling. CTIA, the national mobile-phone trade group, dropped plans to publish a wireless directory in 2004 in response to criticism by lawmakers and privacy advocates. A subsequent attempt by large wireless carriers -- excluding Verizon Wireless -- to create a wireless directory was recently abandoned, RCR Wireless reported.

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