I have been talking with people about protecting personal privacy a lot lately especially when it comes to identifiable information. One of the biggest exposures is a persons cell phone number. People are tied to their cell phone numbers as much as their cell phone number are to them. No one changes their personal phone numbers (or email for that matter) unless they absolutely have too. It’s just too much effort and trouble to get your friends and other accounts all changed to the new number. Who wants to do that right?
Experiment: Google your phone number. Check out sites such as Spokeo and see what information $2 will buy you.
We need to start treating our phone numbers as information we need to protect. Unfortunately in today’s world having a cell phone is a necessity for everything to banking to ordering from Amazon to social/dating sites. All those different sources of information all tied together by a single phone number. What happens when there is a breach? What happens if sites sell your data? Try to think about how many times you have given your phone number out and what data it is tied to. I have had my phone number since around 2002 and I can’t even remember how many times I used it when signing up for websites or services.
There is a solution! Get a Burner phone number. Every time I think of having a burner phone I think of James Bond or old spy movies but have realized it is a useful tool for protecting privacy. For example, when you use your cell phone number to sign up for a service do they ever use it to contact you? When you do need them to contact you is it a temporary communication like selling on craigslist? Minus my bank, my close friends and work I almost never use my actual phone number for communication anymore. Everyone else gets a temporary burner number or a secondary phone number.
How I Use My Burners:
I use a combination of two burners, one is a app that gives me a phone number with text/voice/voicemail that I can change/burn whenever I choose. The second is second phone number that would just be for text/voice/voicemail but I keep for longer periods of time. My burners are virtual (more on that later) and are accessed through my phone so I can access them or turn on/off alerts.
The short term burner is for anything that I would short term access too such as CraigsList, sign ups that require text verification and rewards programs. Basically anytime I don’t want to have long term contact or there is no reason to collect my phone number other than data gathering by a company. An excellent example for short term burner use is also dating or possible short term social contacts. When you are dating and give out your number you have no idea who that person is or will be to you. Everyone probably has heard or been in a dating situation where being able to cut contact would of been useful. Unless I have a reason to cycle numbers immediately, I usually only keep my short-term burner number for a maximum of 15-30 days.
The long term burner is for services/people I may need to keep longer contact with but are not close friends or family. Most of the time I set this burner to go straight to voicemail for voice calls and not to alert for text messages unless I am actively using it. I manually check this when I get time or when needed. The longer term is great for accounts you have a subscription to such as Netflix or my car dealership. Basically anything that you may want to contact you and semi-trust but don’t necessarily need/want to give your phone number to. The long term burner is just another layer to shield yourself. I usually don’t keep my long term number for more than a year and transition what I deem important to the next long term number.
The Burner I Use
There are many many burner or virtual phone number apps and programs out there. I have not tried them all and different apps work better for different people’s needs.
BURNER – https://www.burnerapp.com/
Cost: $1.99 to $11.99 for individual on demand lines. $4.99/month for 1 line subscription, $14.99 for 3 line subscription.
This is my main burner app. It allows me to have multiple lines and has options to pay for a temporary burner as needed and a subscription that lets me have 1-3 lines for a flat fee. The app is extremely easy to use and you have complete control of each line. Settings are specific for each line which include: “Do Not Disturb”, Ring on/off, Notifications on/off, Voicemail greeting, and Inbound Caller ID. It also has connections you can turn on such as Nomorobo and Ghostbot.
Google Voice – https://voice.google.com/
This would be my secondary choice, its free and it works. Google Voice is a great service for a long term burner number. For a short term you would have to keep creating Gmail accounts. There are many services like Google Voice and most of them are free to almost no cost.