Transparency in Propriety Info Databases, or Did the Pizza Place Sell Your Cell Phone Number?


Have you ever forgotten to pay a bill and received a call about it on your cell phone? Ever wonder how they got your number? Well, you may have given it to them, but if you didn’t, they probably bought it from a commercial data broker, a company that sells personal information to businesses and law enforcement. Many of these companies exist, the most prominent are Choicepoint, Lexisnexis, Merlin, Tracersinfo, and Experian. They essentially operate search engines with proprietary information, and for a small charge, will sell all sorts of information about you.


But how did the data broker get your number? One hears rumors here and there about how they obtain and sell wireless phone numbers. One persistent rumor is that pizza delivery companies sell wireless number to commercial data brokers. Think about it–everyone orders pizza, and in doing so, provides an address and at least a first name.


I remember seeing that one of Lexis’ people finder databases advertised having a directory of wireless numbers, and that one source for them was pizza delivery services. But in going to their webpage, I couldn’t find mention of pizza delivery companies anymore. A trip to the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine shows what happened with one product–Batchtrace, a popular search tool for debt collectors.

Back in 2002, Lexis advertised that pizza delivery companies, along with a whole bunch of other businesses, were providing phone numbers and other information to Lexis.


But in 2003, Lexis began to pare back some of these disclosures. This coincided with more regulatory and legislative attention on data brokers.


And by 2004, Lexis didn’t disclose any of their sources. This is too bad. Without information about the sources of personal information in proprietary databases, they just become back holes, and individuals do not make the connection between providing information at one business, and it being sold to another.