More Than a Number: privacy concerns associated with cell numbers

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Chances are, in this day and age, you no longer have a landline in your home.

In fact, nearly half of American households have ditched the landline in favor of the cell phone.

But the Federal Trade Commission warns that can open you up to some privacy concerns.

Finance expert Erica Sandberg juggles calls all day, every day. Whenever she's asked for her phone number, it's all about her cell.

"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 give it out to clients or friends either.

"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," Sandberg explained.

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

Schoshinski, the FTC's assistant director for privacy and identity protection, said think of it this way: every time you sign up for something or shop online, you fill out information. In some cases, terms and 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 or even sold again to others interested in the compiled data.

As for Sandberg, she 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," Sandberg said.

While Schoshinski said your cell phone number can't directly lead to identity theft like a Social Security number, it can be a gateway to trouble because it can be an identifier that can lead to other information about you. He said over time, a digital file is created on you.

One possible solution to handing out your primary cell number on forms are apps such as Sideline, Line-2 and BusinessCall. The apps allow you to add a secondary line right onto your cell so you can separate personal calls from any other type of business.

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