Privacy Blog

"Friends don’t let friends get spied on.' – Richard Stallman, President of the Free Software Foundation and longtime advocate of privacy in technology.

Using a Cell Phone Number as Your Primary Contact Number Does Not Need to be a Privacy Risk

There is an article on the WAFF web site that claims using a cell phone as your only telephone number can be a potential privacy risk. I sort of disagree.

I guess I need to explain “sort of.”

no_landline_telephoneFirst of all, millions of Americans have only one telephone: their cell phones. They no longer have old-fashioned landline phones provided by the local Baby Bell company. I am one of those millions. I have a cell phone and I use it as my only telephone.

I used to have two phones: a cell phone plus an old-fashioned landline phone. One day I woke up to the fact that I didn’t need two phones. I can only talk on one phone at a time. I also have no need to pay for two phones, especially now that the cell phone service I use costs less per month than does a wired phone from the local telephone company and the cell phone provides better service to boot.

I used to give out two phone numbers to my friends, relatives, and business associates. “If you think I might be at home, call this number. If there is no answer, try this second number.” All that went away when I got rid of the old-fashioned landline phone. Now my friends, relatives, and business associates have only one number to call.

Of course, the cell phone is always with me wherever I go, something that is impossible with an old-fashioned landline phone. I have made telephone calls to and answered calls from people in the United States when I was walking down the sidewalk in Singapore, in Israel, and in Scotland. In most cases, the other person didn’t even know that I was traveling. Try doing that with an old-fashioned landline phone!

Life is now easier.

And cheaper.

The article by Nick Lough on the WAFF web site claims that using only one phone number exposes the cell phone’s owner to privacy risks. I sort of agree with him but only if the cell phone owner is not paying attention. Anyone who stops and thinks about it for a minute or two can easily sidestep the risks that Nick Lough describes.

Lough repeats a quote from someone else: “It’s pervasive right now. Every single time you sign up for something, you’re going to be asked for your personal information, and very often that includes your primary phone number, which for most people these days is the cell phone number.”

That’s true, of course, but it is also true when using an old-fashioned landline phone. I don’t see how that is different when using a cell phone. We all got along with that “problem” before cell phones became popular. What is different today?

Actually, a lot is different today and most of the differences are good news for anyone concerned with privacy.

First of all, most cell phones have caller ID, usually better caller ID than do the old-fashioned landline phones. In my cell phone and in most of the other sophisticated cell phones, caller ID looks both at the incoming number to see if there is caller ID information attached AND AT THE PHONE’S INTERNAL PHONEBOOK LOOKING FOR A MATCH. In most of my calls, the person calling is someone I have talked with before. His or her name then always appears in my cell phone’s caller ID simply because I have previously entered that person’s information into my cell phone’s internal phone book. (Adding that info at the end of a call only requires 4 or 5 seconds.)

Every time I receive a call from a telemarketer, I hang up and then immediately add that number to my phone’s internal phone directory with a person’s name of SPAMMER or something similar. The next time I receive a call from that number, the caller ID of SPAMMER appears on my phone and I know to ignore the call.

Obviously, I still receive one obnoxious call; the first one. But at least that is better than repetitive calls from the same obnoxious telemarketer. The old-fashioned landline phone I used to have did not have a capability to look up numbers in my own phone book. Add one advantage for cell phones.

Of course, there are times when a telemarketer calls my cell phone for the first time. In that case, the caller ID simply displays the phone number alone or sometimes it says “Caller unknown” or “Number blocked.” In that case, I make a decision as to whether or not to answer the call. I have learned to always let those calls go to voice mail. If it is an important call, the caller can leave a message and I will call back in a minute or two.

Most of the time, callers with unknown names shown on caller ID simply hang up and leave no message. If the call wasn’t important enough for a message, I don’t feel guilty about not answering it.

I upgraded to a new cell phone a few months ago. During the set-up of the new phone, I was asked if I wanted to copy the telephone book of my old phone to the new one. I clicked on YES. A few minutes later, every one of my 2,000+ entries from my old cell phone’s phone book was then copied to the new cell phone’s phone book.

NOTE: Technically, both cell phones frequently back up their phone books to a safe and secure service online. The new cell phone actually retrieved the phone book from the online copy. There was no need to have the old cell phone turned on or operational. The process would have worked the same even if my old cell phone had been run over and crushed by an 18-wheeler!

Nick Lough also wrote, “One way to look at it is that every time you sign up for something or shop online, you fill out information. In some cases, terms or conditions may allow that information to be shared or sometimes even sold to third parties.” That’s true but is easily prevented. When I believe there is a risk of my telephone number being shared, I simply give them my OLD NUMBER from the old-fashioned landline phone that was disconnected some time ago. I never receive calls on that number!

Occasionally, I have to give out the correct number. One recent example was when I recently purchased a new kitchen stove. I had to provide my real telephone number so that the store could call me to tell me when the stove was to be delivered and also for the delivery driver to call and tell me that he was on the way. After receiving each call, I immediately entered the numbers of both the store and the driver into my cell phone’s phonebook with their correct names: “Home Depot Store” and “Home Depot Driver.”

Should I ever receive a call from either of those numbers in the future, I can easily make a decision of whether or not to answer the call simply by looking at the caller ID. (I probably will answer a call from the “Home Depot Driver” but I am not so sure about the store.)

For anyone who really, really needs a second phone number, there is another easy solution although it is not entirely free. Then again, the solution is significantly cheaper than paying for a second phone, an old-fashioned landline phone provided by the local telephone company.

Use one of the several available cell phone apps that add a secondary line onto your existing cell phone. Examples include Sideline, Line2 and BusinessCall. There are others as well. This way you can separate your personal calls from any other type of business. These apps have the extra advantage that even the second line is with you wherever you travel. You can even answer business calls when you are in Singapore, something not possible with an old-fashioned landline phone. Again, the total cost is still less than paying for two telephones and you receive better service besides.

Categories: Cell Phones, Telephone Security

1 reply

  1. So are there pros for using landline phones or it’s just a relict that keeps elderly still familiar in this forward-fast-moving world and soon will die out and there are no reasons neither for private people nor companies to keep landline alive?


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