How Private is Your Phone Number?

How serious are you about the privacy of your phone number? If you’ve watched shows like “The Fall” and “House of Cards” or enjoyed movies dealing with espionage and spying, you’ll already be familiar with something called a “burner phone”. These are cellphones that you use once to deliver or receive a message before you destroy it to avoid being traced. The term, of course, comes from the old method of receiving secret information by way of pen and paper and burning that paper once you memorize the message. But with the rate of growth in cellphone technology, employing burner phones to protect your privacy might be a bit out of your price range. Enter the Burner App.

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The Burner App is new app whose website is running the “Burner Challenge“. By entering your phone number, it will let you know how much information can be obtained from public sources. The app itself functions by generating disposable phone numbers for talking and SMS texting, which is a great way to keep your primary phone number safe from possibly unwanted attention. This Forbes article by Larry Magid lists examples like Craigslist transactions and online dating. By dialing through the app, the recipient’s caller ID will display the generated number instead of your own; you can even have out-of-town area codes to further throw the recipient off your trail. So how much does the Burner App cost? It’s free to download, and you get 15 minutes of talk and 15 texts before the Freemium model kicks on. Additionally minutes and texts can run between $2 and $12.

While I can get behind the lovely nature of this app, I still have some concerns. Just because you have a limitless list of potential numbers with which to use, it doesn’t mean that your activities can be considered private. Does Burner keep a list of app-generated numbers associated with your primary number? Does it ask for locational data? What about the people you’re calling? Do their numbers get recorded somehow? These questions might not matter for the average citizen if their primary concern is obfuscating their personal phone number from intended recipients, but how will this exchange of information be handled according to the law if people are caught using it for illegal activities? I’ll be keeping my eye on Burner. I’m very interested to see what other technologies develop out of their work.

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