118 800 Mobile Directory Service Suspended

Let the street parties begin. 118 800, which has managed to create just about as bad a brand image for itself as any company could manage in the space of just over four weeks, has suspended its mobile phone directory enquiry service after its website seemingly found itself unable to cope with the number of people trying to opt out of the service.
A notice on the company’s website says that the service is suspended “while we undertake major developments to our 'Beta Service' to improve the experience for our customers. We'll be back as soon as possible with the new improved service.”
Mmm. I’ve not entirely convinced that many people out there could give two hoots whether the service ever sees the light of day again. In fact, speaking purely from my own personal experience, I think most people would be happy to see it die a not very slow death.
To explain, I’ve just received my third round robin email from the third different friend, advising me that there is now a directory of every mobile phone number in the country and that if I don’t want to start getting spam phone calls or texts on my mobile, I should unsubscribe from it.
When the storm over the service, branded 118 800 and operated by a company called Connectivity, first broke a few weeks ago, we contacted them and got the impression that they were not so much unscrupulous as perhaps a little naïve.
They don’t in fact, have every mobile phone number in the country. They claim to have around 15 million, collected when people have registered their mobile number for a competition and either agreed to have it passed on to third party companies, or not bothered to check the small print. So when I searched for my own number, for example, it seems they have it, which is hardly surprising given the number of times I have registered my phone number to see what a particular competition or campaign was all about. When I tried my wife’s they didn’t, as she would no sooner enter a competition via her mobile phone than attend a live football match. 
But the perception out there is clearly that there is this scummy company trying to make money by selling your mobile phone details. Hence all the emails from friends trying to do each other a favour. The one I got this morning said that it is currently impossible to make your number ex-directory as the servicve is unavailable, and indeed, a quick clickthrough to the 118 800 website revealed that the entire service is “suspended while we make improvements”.
The message helpfully advises consumers not to call the company on the 118 800 number for anything other than landline directory requests as they will be charged for the call. But as we noted almost a month ago, it’s somewhat surprising that a company in the business of giving out phone numbers doesn’t have one for its own switchboard on its website.
What must have looked like a licence to print money has quickly turned into a disastrous launch for 118 800. To suspend the service while improvements are made is one, arguably positive move, but to make it impossible for consumers to opt out at the same time strikes me as nothing short of stupid. In fact, if, as it seems, the website can’t cope with the number of opt-out requests it’s been getting, that’s a slightly different point, but if the tech team (presumably there is one) behind the service could not foresee this scenario on 10 June when the original story broke, then you have to wonder what they’re playing at.
How much damage this whole affair has done to the concept of mobile marketing among people not currently converted to the idea is a moot point. If nothing else, it should reinforce the point, often made, that the mobile is such a personal device that you invade its privacy at your peril. I for one will be interested to see, if 118 800 survives its botched launch, how many mobile numbers it has left to trade once the dust settles.

David Murphy