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Google Quietly Kills Phonebook Search


Near the end of 2010 Google quietly dropped its phonebook search feature after receiving too many privacy complaints. This feature was a popular tool for genealogists looking for living relatives in the United States. Unfortunately, it no longer works. Google made no announcement and there is no reference to the change on their website. GenealogyInTime Magazine was able to trace down the issue to a personal blog written by a Google engineer (available here), who elaborated on the privacy concerns.

Below is an image of a sample query to show how the Google phonebook feature once worked:

Example of Google phonebook

The ‘r’ in ‘rphonebook’ stood for ‘residential phonebook’ and focussed on home phone numbers. Typing in ‘phonebook: john smith’ also worked but it gave both commercial and residential phone numbers.

Apparently, too many people became upset with seeing their own name and address come up when using the phonebook search feature. It seems that Google was swamped with requests from people to remove their phone numbers. Consequently, Google decided to quietly drop the phonebook feature, a practise which Google refers to as ‘sunsetting’.

As of this writing, there is still a back-door way to use Google search to locate someone’s phone number and address provided that you know their full name and zip code. Simply enter the information into Google search as follows:

Example of Google phonebook function

Alternatively, you can use a dedicated people search engine to find a living relative. We reviewed the best of the people search engines in our article The Best Free People Search Engines. Finally, there are many other online phonebooks that will look up residential phone numbers and addresses. Simply type ‘phonebook’ as a Google search to get the most prominent online phonebooks in your area.

Related Resources

The Best Free People Search Engines for looking up living relatives.

Try the Genealogy Search Engine for looking up ancestors.

See The Death of Google News Archive for details on another useful resource killed off by Google.

See also Five New Google Search Tricks and the Best Free Online Genealogy Tools.