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Post Column: Phone books obsolete part of profitable scam

Among the 1,001 things on my bucket list of stuff to do before I die, No. 573 is to set the Guinness World Record for the most telephone books ripped in half in two minutes. No. 574 is to collect as many telephone books as possible for the most epic bonfire in the history of bonfires. They are not listed in any particular order of importance.

In all seriousness, what good are phone books nowadays? Who needs the Yellow Pages when we can use the magical Internet? The vast majority of Americans agree: a survey reported that some 70 percent of Americans very rarely or never use the Yellow Pages, while another 14 percent use the Yellow Pages only occasionally.

So why do companies continue sending out massive books of rippable paper to as many households as possible, even though only about 16 percent of Americans actually use them regularly? Why not just send the Yellow Pages to the people who request them? After all, the majority of households who receive Yellow Pages just try to shred them or leave them on the sidewalk as ineffective road sponges.

But companies ignore common-sense efficiency for one simple reason: to make more money. The Yellow Pages is basically giant advertisement books sprinkled with phone numbers, and other businesses are happy to pay Yellow Pages to list them in the directory.

However, the cost of Yellow Pages is daunting. Each year, 540 million phone directories are delivered in the U.S. Nineteen million trees and 7.2 billion barrels of oil are expended.

On top of the environmental damage, each year, local governments spend some $54 million to dispose of unwanted phone books, and another $9 million to recycle them — which in itself is a difficult task, because the cheap glue used in phone books can clog up recycling machines.

All of this money comes directly from taxpayers’ pockets to pay for a company that is causing these problems to make money. In addition to paper directories, Yellow Pages has already established an online site with a record of all the phone numbers; however, because only 3 percent of its revenue comes from the online site and the other 97 percent of revenue still originates from the paper ads it sends around, the Yellow Pages remains dedicated to troubling households with bulky, unnecessary tomes.

The Yellow Pages does, indeed, offer an “opt-out” site, where you can sign up to cancel receiving your phone book(s). However, this site is also flawed — it requires you to give your name, your email and your landline phone number to “confirm” your cancellation.

Furthermore, numerous consumers have reported telling Yellow Pages to not send books out to them, only to continue receiving Yellow Pages. In essence, Yellow Pages decides whether or not to listen to your request.

The government has attempted to limit Yellow Pages’ wastefulness. Seattle City Council understood its citizens’ frustration with the unresponsive opt-out site, so it created its own city opt-out site to directly send to Yellow Pages. That way, Seattle was able to keep a third-party tab on whether or not households wanted their Yellow Pages. If unwanted Yellow Pages were sent, then the city would have the basis to fine Yellow Pages.

But Seattle’s program was struck down in October of 2012 on basis of violating the First Amendment.

The ruling against Seattle is wrong. In protecting Yellow Pages, the court has failed to protect the privacy of citizens from incessant advertising because the court only allows consumers to opt-out with Yellow Pages’ own website, which forces consumers to hand over private information and oftentimes ignores the requests for cancellation.

The Yellow Pages opt-out site is intentionally made to be difficult to use, and we need exactly what Seattle proposed: a third-party opt-out site that will hold Yellow Pages accountable and cut down on the waste and annoyance.

Kevin Hwang is a senior at Athens High School who is taking classes at Ohio University and a columnist for The Post. Should Athens ditch the phone book? Email Kevin at kh319910@ohiou.edu.

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