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Some “informal” UK telecoms infrastructure somehow relies on Yahoo Groups, now it’s going away

The Oftel Yahoo Group wis being used for managing UK phone number assignments.
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The former tech empire Yahoo continues to crumble, with Yahoo Groups now riding into the sunset.

Yahoo explains what this means: users will no longer be able to upload content starting October 28, and on December 12, “all previously posted content on the site will be permanently removed.”

Data can be saved in the meanwhile – while Yahoo Groups will turn into basically a mailing list where communication will be possible “via email and search for private groups on the site.”

That’s all well and good – after all, it was an obsolete service that, you might think, hardly anybody uses anymore. But a Twitter user has discovered that the Office of Telecommunications (Oftel) – a government department in the UK – very much does.

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“Today it was announced that Yahoo Groups is shutting down, and taking with it a piece of critical national infrastructure: the Oftel Yahoo Group which is used for managing UK phone number assignments,” the tweet said.

A link to a document by Ofcom – UK’s telecommunications and broadcasting regulator – further reveals that number ranges must be data-filled on other networks, and that this is taking place “via the Ofcom (or rather the Oftel) Yahoo Group.”

Ofcom then follows up with this remarkable quote: “A review might consider whether it is befitting for the world’s sixth-largest economy to manage critical national infrastructure via a Yahoo group but we would hope that is obvious.”

However, in a response on Twitter today, Ofcom said it was “not entirely” accurate that this government body was relying on Yahoo Groups for its business. Rather, the regulator said, this was an “informal” way for phone companies to communicate regarding allocation of number blocks – but the numbers were still “managed through our official database.”

However, further tweets also reveal that other than Yahoo Groups, Ofcom doesn’t have any other, formal and “active” way of notifying phone companies of number assignments – except for publishing this information on its website for these companies to find, when they happen to stop by.

And while, according to Ofcom, the “management” process itself is happening on its own infrastructure – active communication about the process seems to rely heavily on an obsolete service that is now, on top of everything, shutting down. On one hand, it shows how slowly cumbersome government-operated systems move in the digital age – but on the other, it can be taken as yet more proof that this is particularly prevalent in the UK. After all, the country’s entire healthcare system replied on Windows XP and consequently collapsed during the 2017 WannaCry ransomware attack.

In any case, highlighting over-reliance on online services, one Twitter user today commented about Oftel’s use of Yahoo Groups to dryly remark, “Maybe they will move to Google Docs.”

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