It may not be the most polite thing to do, but we’re all guilty of it. The phone rings and some random number pops up on your screen. 10 years ago, I would have answered it, but now thanks to caller ID, whoever it is can go straight to voicemail. Of course when they don’t leave a message, curiosity inevitably gets the better of me, so it’s off to Google in order to find out whose call it was that I just bounced.
To Google’s credit, they have been pretty aggressive about fighting spammy search results from content farmers, but when it comes to your digits, they still haven’t found a way to filter out the spammers from the legitimate information. Take for example, a Google search for my own phone number
As you can see from the screenshot, Google is really good at finding any and all search results with this number in it, but most of the links presented are directing users to pages and pages of meaningless phone numbers. If you click on Google’s #1 search result for my phone number, it leads to a company named AllCallerDirectory.com. While this site does provide “reverse lookup” services, it will cost you $15 if you want to buy a report letting you know that it was Davis Freeberg who called. While my blog’s contact page does show up as the 2nd search result for Google, the remaining 467 results are all similar search spam of some sort.
By comparison, the same search on Blekko (who tends to use more aggressive spam filters) yields only 2 results, both of which are high quality hits.
It would be easy to blame AT&T for this problem, because I imagine that there are all kinds of data silos that surround our phone numbers, but when you consider the my number is actually a Google Voice number, there really isn’t any excuse for Google to be directing traffic to these paid services instead of my Google profile.
While I’ve never spent money on any of these reverse lookup services, I imagine that there are lots of people who have paid for information that they could have gotten for free. In an ideal world, I’d like to see Google partner with some of the telephone directories to improve these types of searches for consumers, but in the meantime simply nuking the “directories” that are gaming the system would be a positive step in the right direction.