I vaguely remember life before I had a cell phone. One day, my parents made me sit down with them and memorize important phone numbers in case I was ever in an emergency. This meant memorizing “mom’s cell,” “dad’s cell,” “dad’s work,” and “home.” As a kid, remembering all four of these nine-digit numbers was rather difficult. God forbid I ever encountered an emergency, because I probably would have dialed numbers at random on a landline. If I were a cell phone deprived child nowadays, things would be much easier. This is because the overarching trend is that people only have one phone – a cell phone. This means that people now only have one phone number associated with them.
Greg Cohn, the cofounder of the new app called Burner, sees this as a problem. We treat our phones like our children and carry them around with us all the time, but we are constantly being asked to give away our precious phone numbers. With the rise in ecommerce and online dating, our phone numbers increasingly function as business and relationship tools. However, these interactions are commonly with complete strangers who we do not necessarily trust with our personal numbers. These are the issues that the Burner app is looking to solve. Just like drug dealers are able to use burner phones in order to effectively safeguard themselves during a business transaction, the Burner app gives its users a level of privacy and protection.
The Burner app looks to turn an idea typically used by individuals involved in nefarious dealings into a reputable business. The app works by providing users with a phone number for each of their identities. 43% of users have created a burner number for buying and selling sites like eBay and Craigslist, while 44% have made a number for online dating. Another 20% of users have also created one for an unintended use: to receive a local number if they have just recently moved. Once the interactions that these phone numbers have been used for have either come to a close or have advanced to the point where the other party can be trusted with your real cell phone number, the user can then choose to discard of their burner number.
For those who use their burner number when online dating, this added layer of privacy would be beneficial for if the relationship ends badly. For those who use it for business transactions, having a temporary number would help avoid situations where unknown individuals do not stop calling or messaging you directly on your cell phone. Burning your phone number is quick and allows you to effectively move on and cut ties. While this all sounds like it could be helpful, I see potential downsides and another alternative that is already built into cell phones.
The first concern I have about this app is that it will encourage people to take on false identities and become more nefarious. The app provides a seamless platform for managing all of your identities, and I would imagine some people would use this app in order to pretend to be someone else or to take advantage of remaining private. For example, if my prankster friends were to get ahold of this app and acquire a burner number, I know for a fact that they would assume someone else’s identity and try to catfish me (these are the same friends who release my phone number under the comments section of celebrities’ Instagram pages claiming that my number is the celebrity’s leaked cell phone number, all so that I get calls from fans who want to speak to their beloved Justin Bieber or Taylor Swift. My friends are complete trolls.) Burner would likely face a lot of backlash from both the public and legal entities if it becomes the host that enables this sort of behavior.
Another concern I have is the larger affect that this would have on cell phone carriers assigning phone numbers. Since North American phone numbers consist of 10 digits, there is an estimated 7,919,900 possible phone numbers. The current population of North America is 528.7 million, so clearly there could be an issue if the people who use Burner claim too many different phone numbers.
Personally, I think that this app poses a significant danger and is not all that necessary. Rather than downloading this app and claiming different numbers, I would personally just share my personal phone number with strangers if the transaction seemed worth it. If a scenario arose where the other party was infringing on my privacy, I would simply block their number – seems like a simpler solution to me.
Do you think this app is necessary?