December 15, 2010

Online Phone Number Revelation Prompts Calls, Texts

One of the more amusing byproducts of CNN's article Monday around what they called the "End of Privacy" was that by the author's listing my phone number in the article and prompting readers to "Give him a ring", many people actually did. Lots of people. Starting early morning Monday, and continuing throughout the day and yesterday, I got phone calls and text messages every few minutes. Many people were incredulous that the phone number in the story belonged to a real person who might pick up the phone, while others warned me that I had been listed on the site - fearing I had been the target of an overzealous reporter out to reveal my dirty laundry without my explicitly granted permissions.

While I have had a full meeting schedule this week, and couldn't pick up the phone to talk with every stranger, I did answer every random text message, and listened to the dozens of voice mails I received from all over the country. You'd think most of America had never seen anybody be so brazen as to make themselves easily available to contact. The episode was fun, and further exhibits the bubble that some of us trying to push the envelope of transparency are in when many others continue being extremely cautious.

Monday Morning Had My Phone Ringing Off the Hook

Many of the calls I got were from numbers listed as "Restricted", where Caller ID was no help. Often, when I answered, people hung up, not sure what to do when a real voice picked up, as they hadn't gotten that far ahead in their mind when they dialed. I had quick debates with people who thought I was crazy, and in many other cases, reassured them that CNN had done nothing wrong, simply aggregating content I (or my wife) had previously chosen to make public.

People Felt Compelled To Text Me, Curious

Of all the things in the article, from my kids' information to our filtered purchasing history and other personal details, it was the openness of the phone number that had people thinking I was insane. Early texts warned my that CNN had posted my data, and suggested I change my number. Others wanted to let me know, in the event I hadn't already found out. Some people just wanted to send a text and get a response. But when I tried to explain that putting a phone number on the Web wasn't all that different from having one's personal number in the local yellow pages, it didn't always compute - even after years of having my number publicly posted on my blog, in my e-mail signature, and even in the footer of my RSS feed, so anybody can call for any reason they like.

I Was Warned My Phone Number Was Online

Despite the number being so visible for the better part of five years, it's never really been an issue. Being easily accessible has made it simpler for PR people or company execs to reach out on announcements, or for peers to use me as a sounding board. But with very few exceptions, the choice to be available has been extremely beneficial. (See from Monday: Solving Privacy On the Web: Be Smart, Not Scared)

Not everyone understands this yet, clearly. So when CNN put the number online and said "give him a ring", the combination gave people a level of curiosity that needed to be satiated. Could somebody (me) really be this dumb? Of course. Happy to play the role of the fool if for no other reason than to help people think more about how they approach the big world of the Web.

For more background, you can be sure CNN did not have any intentions to make my life difficult in their story. I participated and provided the reporter with the appropriate links to help flesh out his story. He even did me a favor to clear the opening paragraphs to confirm my approval, and I think the discussion is a great one, even if there are clearly opposing views.

And yes, in case you're curious, I put the phone on vibrate overnight the last few days so my kids didn't wake up. It seemed like a good idea.