Cell phone numbers as primary contact could be privacy risk

Updated: Jan. 19, 2017 at 9:21 PM CST
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(WAFF) - Mobile lifestyles mean mobile numbers are either the primary - or often the only - phone number for many of us.

Nearly half of American homes have now dumped their landlines. However federal officials warn that cell-centered lifestyles may be opening up a whole new long-term privacy issue.

Take Erica Sandberg. As a finance expert, she juggles calls all day. So whenever she is asked for her phone number, she gives out her cell as her primary number.

"The reason I do use it as my primary number is because it's the one I always have with me," Sandberg said.

She doesn't just use her cell number with friends and clients, but for official uses too.

"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," she said.

Phone numbers on forms aren't new, but the Federal Trade Commission's Robert Schoshinski says today's mobile landscape is different whereas landlines change if you move and are associated with everyone in a household, but cell numbers may stay with a person for life.

"And what that means is that the number will be linked to the individual and can be sort of an identifier to tell people how to link other information to that individual," Schoshinski said.

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.

"Once you've linked a cell phone number to an individual's name or profile, you can link all sorts of other information that a data broker may have. So, for instance, online browsing habits, online shopping habits, in-person shopping habits," Schoshinski said.

Schoshinski said that information can be used for marketing purposes or even sold again to others interested in the complied information.

Sandberg said she'll now think twice before giving out her number.

"I'm certainly concerned about it, and it has made me pause before just randomly writing it out or supplying it on an online form," she said.

There are possible solutions to handing out your primary cell number on forms. Apps such as Sideline, Line2 and BusinessCall that allow you to add a secondary line right onto your cell. This way you can separate your personal calls from any other type of business.

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