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Understanding Consumer Attitudes About Wireless Telephone Directories and Privacy

Introduction

Almost since the advent of telephone service itself, consumers have been able to use a telephone directory or directory assistance service to search for other phone users. Moreover, these directories have usually included a comprehensive listing of telephone numbers. Indeed, when individuals order telephone service for their home or business, their phone number is automatically included in a directory database. For the most part, only customers who request nonpublished service and pay a monthly fee for an unlisted number are excluded from these directories.

More recently, however, the telecommunications industry and the media have begun to focus on a large and rapidly growing group of telephone numbers—those of wireless customers—that are generally excluded from telephone directories. In the United States, the number of wireless telephone subscribers has increased dramatically in only a short time, rising from roughly 49 million in 1997 to over 160 million currently, yet most cell phone numbers are not included in traditional directories and directory assistance services. This situation may change very soon. In fact, a group of wireless service providers is now compiling a national database of wireless phone numbers that may be available sometime in 2005.

A number of policymakers and privacy advocates have expressed concern over the industry's planned release of the cell phone directory. They contend that subscribers value the privacy of their wireless phone number and want to avoid having it appear on a list for anyone to see. While many subscribers to more traditional landline telephone service also want to keep their home numbers private, cell phone subscribers have additional incentives to do so. First, the privacy of wireless subscribers has always been safeguarded. Therefore, many cell phone users now expect to receive calls only from those individuals to whom they have personally given their number. Second, wireless service providers, unlike their landline counterparts, charge for incoming as well as outgoing calls. As a result, wireless users have to pay for any unwanted, incoming calls.

The wireless industry's leading trade association argues that wireless users want and need a directory, and that cell phone companies would include only the wireless numbers of those subscribers who agree to be listed. Their critics, however, express concern that wireless phone companies may charge consumers in exchange for keeping their numbers out of the directory.

Methodology

AARP conducted a nationwide survey to measure cell phone users' interest in making their wireless phone numbers publicly available through a directory. A nationally representative sample of 5,283 respondents age 18 and older participated. AARP designed the sample to represent the continental United States adult population living in households that had a telephone and, at the same time, to allow for comparisons among owners of wireless telephones in three different age groups: 18-49, 50-64, and 65 and older. Of the total sample, researchers identified and questioned 1,443 wireless phone owners concerning their cell phone use and their attitudes about making their wireless phone numbers publicly available in a directory.

Attitudes about Wireless Telephone Directories

The survey asked respondents whether they thought it was good or bad that there is currently no way for another individual to get the respondent's wireless phone number unless the respondent chooses to give it to that person. Wireless phone owners of all ages overwhelmingly said that they thought this was a good thing (Figure 1).

Figure 1.
Is the Current Lack of a Wireless Directory a Good Thing?
Figure 1. Is the Current Lack of a Wireless Directory a Good Thing?
AARP Public Policy Institute (N=1,443)

Respondents were also asked whether they would want their cell phone number included in a directory so that others could locate them. Ten percent of wireless phone owners age 18-49 said they would want to be included in such a directory, while half as many (5 percent) wireless owners age 65 and older, and 6 percent of those age 50-64 indicated that they would want to be included in a wireless directory (Figure 2).

Figure 2.
Would You Want Your Wireless Phone Number Included in a Directory?
Figure 2. Would You Want Your Wirelss Phone Number Included in a Directory?
AARP Public Policy Institute (N=1,443)

Preference for the Method to Create a Wireless Telephone Directory

The survey asked wireless phone owners to assume that a cell phone directory would in fact be compiled and then asked them to identify the best method for creating a directory. More specifically, it asked whether wireless providers should 1) add every cell phone number to their directory and give wireless owners the ability to have their number removed upon request, or 2) only add those phone numbers of wireless users who give their permission to do so. Respondents of all age groups overwhelmingly indicated that a wireless directory should only include the cell phone numbers of those wireless users who elect to participate (Figure 3).

Figure 3.
What Is the Best Method for Creating a Wireless Directory?
Figure 3. What Is the Best Method for Creating a Wireless Directory?
AARP Public Policy Institute (N=1,443)

Conclusion

Cell phone owners highly value the privacy of their wireless telephone numbers. An overwhelming majority of them view the current lack of a publicly available wireless phone directory as a positive. If such a directory were created, most cell phone owners indicated they would not want to have their number included. In fact, they believe that no wireless phone number should be added to the directory unless the cell phone owner specifically requested it.

AARP
Cell Phone Directory Survey

Topline Results

This AARP Cell Phone Directory Survey was conducted via telephone from June 2, 2004 to June 13, 2004 among a nationally representative sample of 5,283 respondents age 18 or older. A total of 1,443 respondents are cell or wireless phone users. All fieldwork by ICR/International Communications Research of Media, PA.
All numbers are rounded. -- indicates no responses. * equals less than 0.5% of respondents.

We would like to ask you a few questions about cellular telephones and new 411 or directory assistance for cell phone numbers. Wireless directory assistance, similar to "411" for your regular phone, would make your number publicly available. Today, people can only get your cell phone number if you give it to them.

CD-1. Do you personally have a cell phone or wireless telephone that you could use to make or receive calls?

Age Yes (%) No (%) Don't know (%) Refused (%)
18-49 62 38 * --
50-64 58 42 -- 1
65+ 37 62 * *


(Asked of total cell phone owners; n = 1443; 18-49 = 505; 60-64 = 509; 65+ = 429)
CD-2. Do you use this cellular or wireless telephone mainly for business use, mainly for personal use, or both?

Age Business (%) Personal (%) Both (%) Don't know (%) Refused (%)
18-49 5 49 47 * --
50-64 8 56 36 * *
65+ 3 77 19 2 --


(Asked of total cell phone owners; n = 1443; 18-49 = 505; 60-64 = 509; 65+ = 429)
CD-3. Do you consider your cell phone to be your primary phone–that is, the way you make or receive most of your calls?

Age Yes (%) No (%) Don't know (%) Refused (%)
18-49 38 62 * --
50-64 20 80 1 *
65+ 18 81 1 --



(Asked of total cell phone owners; n = 1443; 18-49 = 505; 60-64 = 509; 65+ = 429)
CD-4. Do you think it is a good thing or a bad thing that there is currently no way in which individuals can get your cell phone number unless you give it to them?

Age Good thing
(%)
Bad thing
(%)
Neither good nor bad
(%)
Don't know
(%)
Refused
(%)
18-49 90 6 4 1 --
50-64 91 5 3 1 *
65+ 89 5 4 2 *


(Asked of total cell phone owners; n = 1443; 18-49 = 505; 60-64 = 509; 65+ = 429)
CD-5. Some cell phone users want their number included in a cell phone directory to make it easier for others to find them. Other cell phone users prefer not to have their cell phone number made available to the general public. Would you want to have your cell phone number included in a cell phone directory assistance database so that others could find it?

Age Yes (%) No (%) Don't know (%) Refused (%)
18-49 10 89 1 --
50-64 6 93 1 *
65+ 5 92 3 --


(Asked of total cell phone owners; n = 1443; 18-49 = 505; 60-64 = 509; 65+ = 429)
CD-6. If cell phone companies were to create a directory assistance of cell phone numbers, should they...?

Age Add every cell phone number to wireless directory assistance and then ask people whether they want to be removed from the directory (%) Add only those cell phone numbers belonging to people who say they want to be added to the list (%) No preference
(%)
Don't know
(%)
Refused
(%)
18-49 6 91 2 1 --
50-64 5 92 2 * *
65+ 7 83 5 4 1

Footnotes

  1. For purposes of this report, the terms "wireless" and "cellular" are interchangeable.
  2. See the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association's website at www.wow-com.com/.
  3. Customers can pay a monthly fee to have their wireless phone numbers listed in traditional directories. As many as 5 million wireless subscribers (roughly 3 percent of the all wireless subscribers in the United States) take advantage of this option. See May, Jeff. "Phone Directories Shrink as Dialing Options Expand," Newhouse News Service (July 14, 2004).
  4. Slightly more than one-third of residential wireline phone numbers are unlisted nationwide. See Wong, M. "Privacy Could Hamper Cell Phone Directory," Associated Press (June 18, 2004).
  5. The survey was conducted via telephone from June 2, 2004, to June 13, 2004. The percentage of respondents who indicated that they owned a wireless phone from each age group was as follows: 18-49: 62 percent, 50-64: 58 percent, and 65+: 38 percent.

Written by Neal Walters and Christopher Baker, AARP Public Policy Institute

August 2004
©2004 AARP
All rights are reserved and content may be reproduced, downloaded, disseminated, or transferred, for single use, or by nonprofit organizations for educational purposes, if correct attribution is made to AARP.
Public Policy Institute, AARP, 601 E Street, NW, Washington, DC 20049

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