Thursday, May 29, 2014

How do you find a $%!@ phone number?

Or, Telephony in the Internet Age

For much of my life, if we wanted to find a phone number we would grab a Yellow Pages and flip through to find it.  In college, computers were fast becoming mainstream, and my roommate had the brilliant idea to distribute phone directories for pay on disks (tip to you, Neil!).  5.25" floppy disks.  This of course allowed people to search a phone number and find the name associated with it.

Fast forward to 2014.  For many years now (at least 8), I have not even opened a phone book.  If I want a number for a person or business, it's easy to find online or in my contacts.  And more up-to-date than a printed book.  And doesn't waste paper, and all that fuel trucking the heavy paper to my house, let alone cutting down the trees and processing the paper and publishing the books.


But, let's say someone calls you from a phone number - how do you find out who it is?  Whether what caller ID says is correct is quite the question (data entry mistakes are made, and spoofers fool the system).  So I get tons of calls from telemarketers, surveyors, and scammers alike.  It's one thing when they call my home, really annoying when they call my cell, but when they call my kids' cell phones it is downright disturbing.

What recourse do we have?  Sure, we can block the number from future calls, but typically people call from multiple numbers, or spoof the number.  Yes, the phone systems are so stupid and open to hacking, that anyone can call from apparently any number with any name using the right equipment (that doesn't cost much).  And nowadays a phone and phone number can be anywhere in the world, throwing out the whole hope of enforcement, jurisdiction, and punishment.

Indeed, the Area Code and Exchange for a phone number used to give you its location.  Not so any more - as numbers can be obtained and operated from anywhere for anywhere, let alone call forwarding.

Truly, I see this as the next big area of concern.  Can we push our federal representatives to legislate security in our telephone system?  Certainly they did have the will to pass laws on telemarketers, so why not to force telecom providers to tighten up security and prevent unauthenticated broadcasting of Caller ID?

Finding a Number Now

Let's say you are looking for a phone number for an individual, not a business.  How would you go about looking it up?  Do you call Information at 411?  You could do that, but typically there is a charge associated with it, especially on your cell phone service.  Really, who does use an actual phone book any more?

Do you search the Internet?  Well, there is a huge can of worms.  You get a bunch of irrelevant results, and there are a TON of people and phone finder web sites that say they are free - but by heck are not!  They dupe you into a page where to continue and get the actual number, you have to pay. does work fairly well, and is truly free - apparently paid for by advertising and cross-reference link referrals.


Here's what I like as far as screening incoming calls:  Google Voice.  If you haven't used it, it is a phone number that you get - for free - but it could very well be the last phone number you need.  When people call it, it rings through to numbers of your choosing.  So, you give out your GV number for people to call - and if your home phone, cell phone, or work phone change - you log into the web site and update it.  Voila, your calls are forwarded.

But further, if you want to group callers into friends, family, coworkers, customers, etc. and set up ring-through rules for each group you can.  So friends and family don't ring through to work, and coworkers and customers don't ring through to home.

You can also block callers.  If you get a call from someone annoying, you block them on the web site.  This prevents them from calling you from that number - and further it gives them the telecom code for a disconnected number, so if it is a telemarketer robot, it will automatically remove your number from the list!

Texting?  Yes, it supports SMS, so you can send and receive text messages using this number - and have the SMS messages either forwarded to your "real" phone, or as e-mails.

Voice-mails are transcribed automatically (and with some hilarious results) into text that can be viewed in an e-mail or in the voice-mail inbox.

And the cost for this service is steep - $0 per month.  If you multiply that out - that's $0 per year.  Or if you want to pay in Euros, that is 0 €.  Per Month.

Send me feedback in the comments - when was the last time you used a phone book?  Do you still need it?  What did you use it for - to find a number, or to hold down something that might blow away?

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