Anyone who’s seen any crime show lately knows all about how bad guys and even good guys like to use burn phones— cheap, prepaid cellphones that let them conduct business in private, with a fake number that can’t be traced back. And now there’s an app for that.
Sure, these days, you can use Google Voice, SkypeIn, or a number of any other services, but what’s nice about Burner is that you can do it from your own iPhone (an Android version is coming soon) in an instant. All I had to give Burner was my phone number. The company doesn’t even know my name or have my e-mail address. And yes, as expected, some people are already using it to create “casual encounters”-style personal ads (possibly NSFW).
I created my own Burner number in about 20 seconds. It defaults to your actual area code (in my case, 510), but you can choose a different one if you like. The app costs $2 and comes with a single temporary phone number and enough credits for a 20-minute phone call, which I burned through (excuse the pun) while on the phone with Greg Cohn, the co-founder and CEO of Ad Hoc Labs, the app’s parent company. Users can buy more numbers or add credit if necessary, or disconnect themselves from the temporary number by “burning” it in the app.
“There is a broader thesis that we have around identity and privacy,” Cohn told me. “We definitely think that communications, and telephony specifically, have been left behind by the wave of social innovation that’s been happening. The network should be smarter, it should be more socially aware and more privacy-aware.”
Cohn, the former director of business development at Yahoo, outlined a number of legitimate scenarios in which the company anticipates the app might work. A publicist may only want to give out a number for a weekend, or a week, while coordinating a local event. Or, a political campaign may want to issue temporary numbers for phone banks.
“The person who has burned the number is not reachable on that number,” Cohn added. “We think of it as a temporary social network. You’re just giving them a path to you that works for right now. When you burn that number, that path dissolves. As well, we wipe the history from your phone.”
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