It has happened to us all. At some point, for whatever reason, you find yourself in a situation where you need to exchange information with someone you don't particularly want calling your home or cell phone at their own discretion or convenience. Whether you just ran into an old classmate from high school – the one you desperately avoided back then – or find yourself entering your name in a drawing to win the shiny, new car you saw parked in the middle of your local shopping mall, your telephone number is the one piece of information you're hesitant about giving out.
Nobody wants a bunch of spammers and telemarketers calling their main line. And nobody wants to come home at night to an answering machine (those things still exist, right?) filled to the brim with automated messages claiming your family somehow won a week-long, paid-in-full cruise for four in a random drawing you never entered your name in.
Telemarketers are the worst of their breed. But maybe it's a more personal or private matter. Maybe you're running a second life and need disposable numbers. Or maybe, just maybe, you're a frequenter of Craigslist and need an extra layer of anonymity.
Whatever the case, the need for privacy, especially in the digital world we live in, can never be understated. And it all begins – and sometimes ends – with a simple, 10-digit number you've spent the last half decade years protecting from the digital age.
If this is you, Burner may be just the app you've been waiting for. Part of Ad Hoc Labs, Burner issues temporary numbers for use on iPhones that can be disposed of, or "burned", after the user is finished with it. Greg Cohn, founder and CEO of Ad Hoc Labs, said, “Burner is for anyone who has more than one life — or who simply values their privacy.”
“People are using their mobile phones all the time, and using SMS more and more for day-to-day tasks. Protecting your privacy is harder than ever,” said Cohn. Burner sells for $1.99 and includes the first number in the price of the app. Once activated, the number will remain active for seven days, through 20 minutes to talk time or for 60 text messages, whichever comes first. Mashable's Sam Laird explains what happens once a number is burned:
"Once you do ditch — or burn — your new number, it’s gone forever and people who try to reach you will be greeted with a simple out-of-service message."
The user can also add credits to keep the number alive or dispose of it and create a new one, not unlike buying various prepaid cell phones and "burning" them to duck law enforcement when you're on the lam. Burner and Ad Hoc don't necessarily condone criminal activity or avoiding police, however. They suggest their service is perfect for "dating, Craigslist, short-term projects, side businesses, bands, and other times when you need to be in touch but want to maintain a little privacy." Ad Hoc's Cohn continues:
"Phone numbers are part of an old network that is getting dumber, in relative terms, by the day."
"You give out your number, and it’s all or nothing; it’s out there forever. And in the era of Facebook and social networking, we know the phone can be a lot smarter. Burner is the first piece of this vision."
Immediately, when I first heard of Burner, I thought to myself, "Why would anyone pay for this? Isn't that what most people use Google Voice for anyway?" Originally, that's what I used Google Voice for. I created a number through Google Voice and gave it to people I wasn't planning on staying in close contact with. I used it for Craigslist deals, for filling out information for businesses, etc.
However, while they can be used for largely the same thing, Google Voice and Burner have two very different sets of unique benefits. And, in my case, they are the complete opposite. I no longer use Google Voice for what I did before. Instead, I use Google Voice as my primary number so I can receive calls on either my AT&T or Verizon line. I also use it for text messaging. What that means is I now use Google Voice for what Google intended the service to be used for and I am too enveloped by the service to be giving that number out to just anyone.
And this is why Burner is such a nice service. Buying Burner credits in bulk gives you a discount, in which you could keep an anonymous number open for months for a rather affordable price. Then … poof. When you no longer need it, it's gone. Granted, you can do this with Google Voice, too. And, depending on how long you plan to keep your Burner number, Google Voice may be cheaper. (Changing your number via Google Voice costs $10.)
But the purpose of Burner is the ease of use and frictionless nature of it all. It's just as easy and painless as popping a new SIM in your phone, and it is all done on the fly.
I purchased Burner not too long ago with the intent to use it for various things, primarily with Craigslist deals. Tell me, ladies and gents, do any of you have a use for Burner? Or does Google Voice suffice in keeping your privacy? If you have some great use cases in mind for Burner, feel free to share them below. Just … try to keep suggestions on the legal side of things.