A spam blog!

“867-5309” up for sale

As you may know, “number portability” has arrived for mobile phones — so that you can transfer a number from one phone to another. This has created an interesting side effect: People with particularly cool phone numbers are putting them up for sale to the highest bidder.

On Ebay today, someone is auctioning their mobile number “867-5309” — which was, of course, made hummably famous by the Tommy TuTone hit “Jenny (867-5309)”. It’s available in the 212 area code. When I last checked in, the bids had hit $56,000. Holy moses.

What’s particularly interesting is the attitude of the seller towards the number, as witnessed by the way she or he describes the “item”:

**I currently am the owner of 212-867-5309. I will transfer the number to the highest bidder.

**Number portability has allowed me to put this up for sale.

The thing is, nobody owns their phone number. It’s a piece of identifying data the phone carriers temporarily give to you, but they could revoke it at any point in time. Check your mobile-phone contract if you don’t believe me. (Actually, you’re carrying lots of things you don’t own. That bank card in your pocket? It’s the property of the bank, merely on loan to you while you have an account with them.)

But the point is, people believe that they own these things — so they treat them like property even if they aren’t. In the case of mobile numbers, this is likely to lead to some quite interesting culture clashes. What’s going to happen when mobile-number auctioning becomes a really big thing? Will Verizon and Cingular and Sprint and all the other carriers suddenly go, “whoa, hold a second, we should be getting the money for these sales”? Or will they consider it a sort of unavoidable usage culture that is basically free advertising for the coolness of mobile phones? It’s much like the fights that have cropped up in the world of online games like Ultima Online or Everquest, where the players began treating their virtual swords, castles and characters as a form of property, and selling them on Ebay — utterly without the consent of the companies.

** UPDATE: As I suspected, Verizon has yanked this auction — you can read my blog posting about it here.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Search This Site


I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

More of Me


Recent Comments

Collision Detection: A Blog by Clive Thompson