The publication known informally as the "white pages" is actually a directory of names, phone numbers and mailing addresses generated by phone companies and distributed to their customers and public venues. Although a modern phone book may have both yellow and white sections, the white pages provide only basic contact information about individuals and businesses, while the yellow pages contain sponsored advertisements. The white pages of a phone book may also contain pertinent contact information for local governmental services, a history of the area, and various indexes for placing international calls and other specialized phone services.
The publication of white pages is almost as old as the telephone itself. It is believed that the first telephone directory appeared in New Haven, Connecticut during the late 1870s or early 1880s. It named all 50 telephone customers in the New Haven area on one printed page. As the number of telephones increased, so did the size and scope of the white pages which accompanied them. The compilation and updating of all of this new information was a painstaking task for telephone company employees before the invention of computers and high-speed printers.
The white pages as we know them today still contain personal contact information for the authorized owner of the telephone account, but additional information about other family members and alternative phone numbers can be added. Customers can also request that their personal information not be listed in the public white pages, although the phone company can charge a fee for the privilege of anonymity. Female customers can also request that their first names only appear as initials in the white pages, in order to discourage criminals from scanning the phone book for single female residents.
With the advent of computer databases and Internet connectivity, the traditional paper form of white pages now has a number of competitors. The Supreme Court has determined that the information contained in telephone white pages is not protected by copyright, so it can be compiled and distributed by sources other than the telephone company. Electronic versions of the white pages can be accessed online or be published on CD-ROMs. The information generally found in the white pages in the United States can also be accessed by dialing the phone numbers for directory assistance or information.