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What's that phone number? Google disables area code look-up tool

Jail

Got a call from a strange number? If you were in front of a computer, you could have used Google to look up where that caller probably was phoning from before you heard the second ring.

When you entered a simple three-digit-number query, Google's search engine used to provide a handy line showing the location the phone number was registered in. But Google recently removed the area code look-up feature.

"We're constantly reviewing and updating Google search features to offer the best experience for our users," a Google spokesman wrote in an e-mail. "As part of that process, the area code look-up feature is no longer available."

He didn't provide much detail beyond that, but we can postulate that Google's Voice service may have something to do with it. The telephony program opened its doors officially this summer. In addition to providing free voice-mail storage and transcription, call recording and a central in-box website, Voice lets you register a free phone number.

Google provides a multitude of 10-digit numbers to choose from, and lets you pick memorable ones or spell out a phrase. (Sorry, 1-800-MATTRES is taken.) The area code you register with Voice doesn't have to be associated with where you actually live.

Additionally, thanks to cellphones and number-portability laws, people can take their digits with them to their next residences more easily than they can move a couch.

Whether the location finder was foolproof or not, the tool was indispensable for this journalist. I get a lot of calls from phone numbers I've never seen before.

Quickly plugging the first three digits into a Google search box would give me an idea that, if it's centered in Mountain View, Calif., it's probably that Google guy calling me back. Or if it's from Palo Alto, maybe it's Facebook.

I guess I'll be adding WhitePages.com to my bookmarks now.

-- Mark Milian
twitter.com/markmilian

Photo: Inmates make phone calls at Maricopa County's Tent City jail in Phoenix. Credit: Joshua Lott / Reuters

 
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