If so, this is a brilliant pricing model for adding value on top of someone else's API. One-time App store pricing of $1.99 gets $1.39 to use on purchasing a short-duration Twilio line and then in-app purchases can be used to refill extra numbers/minutes, all presumably with enough margin to make money on top of the basic "reserve and use a Twilio number" functionality.
Just checked and Twilio phone numbers are $1/mo. and 1-2 cents a minute for calls. There's definitely headroom to make money here.
Frankly, the job of law enforcement is up to people in law enforcement. We're not responsible for them. Their physical inability to do certain kinds of harm is part of the balance between civil rights and law enforcement.
Most people who benefit from Burner won't be criminals. It'll probably end up reducing crime by protecting potential victims. Most people are good, so when this thing is doing it's job, it's mostly going to be protecting good people. The additional safety will encourage people to have a better feeling of safety in their lives, as they'll be taking smaller risks when using their phone and interacting with other people. In single life, this thing is frankly a godsend, and can really make a substantive improvement in many peoples lives... Especially for those who've previously been victims.
Worrying about whether to protect people, versus easing the jobs of the people who protect people, is absurdly myopic.
Everyone looking at this service is completely justified in being skeptical and asking questions.
That's like Sony saying "give us your personal info, CC numbers, etc... don't worry we'll take care of the rest" and they turn around and store it in plaintext or md5 on an insecure database.
Also, if it turns out that this service is somehow unlawful or could get shut down / interrupted by law enforcement then I want to know that before I invest in them as a customer.
TL;DR - It's never wrong to question something; especially something like this. If they can't answer the hard questions now then they don't deserve our trust.
What happens if your app indeed becomes a salvage for criminals? What's your policy around government requests for information about the person who used the number during a duration? Would you cooperate with subpoenas, or is this really only private on a social but not legal level?
Useful for avoiding telemarketers though.
The phone service in the US is also ridiculous expensive but it's a different matter.
Also this is the same moralizing question asked about everything ever that could possibly be used for nefarious reasons on this site.
Aren't you bored seeing the same questions over and over about mostly interchangeable subjects?
We designed Burner explicitly and thoughtfully around user-to-user privacy and anonymity. Burner enables users to communicate by voice and text without exchanging their "real" (ie permanent, or even semi-permanent a la Google Voice) numbers, while still using the familiar form factors of phone calls and SMS, and without requiring their counterparties to download apps or join a network.
Burner can be used for anything from dating and craigslist transactions to posting publicly on twitter, to pure entertainment and other things we haven't thought of yet.
The way Burner works, very explicitly, is as a bridge between your phone and others. In other words, calls run over your mobile carrier and your counterparty's carrier, via a bridge that we manage, so that your counterparty doesn't see your callerID endpoint. SMS messages are slightly different technically, but effectively similar. Presuming your counterparty is not on Burner, on their end it's just like a regular phone call or SMS -- ie on their mobile or wireline carrier, on their phone hardware, etc.
It should be obvious given the above that we have no control over these 3rd-party carriers, and we certainly aren't in a position to direct their policies and procedures. We also work with 3rd parties like Twilio for other parts of the number issuance and telelphony process, rackspace for hosting, and so on. It should also be obvious that we have no control over hardware, software, or 3rd-party apps (or malware) on your counterparties' phones.
Given all of the above, Burner was explicitly not designed as a product that's for or meant to be marketed for encrypted or otherwise absolute, leakproof anonymous communication channels. (There are other services available for this, like Tor and Silentcircle, and many very legitimate uses for them, as I'm sure many HN members know.)
We've tried to be thoughtful and clear in our communications, terms of service, and privacy policies about our service, both in terms of what we don't say, and what we do say (various specific uses, for example, are very explicitly against our TOS). We would also be happy post more clearly about our processes (at least to the degree we can), if that would help users make more informed decisions about whether to use Burner.
We are a U.S. corporation operating in the U.S -- in case it's not obvious, we are obliged to and intend to comply with U.S. laws and valid court orders that apply to us. That said, as a company value and personally, we strongly respect the principles of free speech and have lots of concerns about the current state of affairs with respect to wiretapping and the laws that apply to it. We will do everything we can to ensure that any laws or law enforcement requests are indeed applicable and valid, to take as "pro-user" a privacy position as possible within our legal and privacy framework, and to continue to communicate clearly with our users about what we are and aren't doing.
I hope this helps answer the question.
We'd be overjoyed if some other folks deployed these ...
This is true of any information system you don't control yourself to any realistic degree. Solved. Next?
It's obviously a question you could ask about any service ("Google, are you concerned about criminals using Gmail to conduct criminal business?"), but it seems particularly worth addressing when the name of your product evokes usage by drug dealers and mobsters to evade law enforcement.
I just projected so far down the line that I would have requests from the FBI every day for who was behind particular phone numbers due to nefarious use of temporary phone numbers.
Do they get reused eventually with the hope that the time since burning is long enough for the old usage of the number to have died off?
 Sorry, didn't see PanMan had asked virtually the same question already.
The only think that might confuse people is if you start to recycle numbers (because you don't want to keep paying for them), and the call gets connected somewhere totally unrelated.
I thought you might be using caller ID, so the number is only relevant to people with a specified phone number. (Similar to how Rebtel works.) But it doesn't seem to be the case here, as I think numbers can be shown publicly.
For Burner, each number goes through a quarantine and is monitored for activity before we use it.
EDIT: Also worth noting that SMS seems to be more popular than voice calls, at least initially. "Wrong number SMS" doesn't seem like an actual problem as of yet.
Right now, Burner is top of mind for me, but I don't have an immediate need to use the app. If it were free, I would gladly download it right now, and simply pay for a number whenever a use case arises.
As it stands now, I probably won't download the app, and when a potential use case does arise, who knows if I'll remember (and be able to download on the fly) this app.
Great concept, and love the rest of the pricing model built on Twilio. I just think the Burner team might be missing out on potential additional distribution.
I don't mean to be picking on you quintendf because I do exactly the same thing and your comment made me realize it. I am going to download the app just because of your arguement - I am going to need it sometime in the next few months and not remember the name.
There must be some cognitive bias about buying an app. I will blow $2 on a Diet Coke when I fill-up with gas with barely a second thought. But ask me to download a $2 app - Whoa! this is going to take some thought, research...
Are we hardwired to not spend when we get nothing (physical) in return?
Do movies "hack" this behavior by handing you a ticket?
Will my 6 and 8 year old daughters not have this behavior "tick?" They already see no problem with asking to spend $50 on a chest of gems.
I'm moving from the East Coast to the West Coast. I'm planning on taking one car load worth of possessions. The rest, I am giving away or trashing.
I know someone who has done something similar:
In this month-long process, I have discovered that:
(1) It is emotionally draining to sort through my possessions and let them exit my personal space.
(2) Among the most common, recurring pattern of emotion/rationalization is that of fear and "I may need this in the future." Looking at it clearly, though, many of those things I bought in which I "might" need, I have never actually used. They end up being security blankets.
(3) Once it is out, this appears to free up a great deal of mental space. I've been finding things easier to get things done and try new things.
(4) This leads to more deliberation and mindfulness on the new things coming into my space.
(5) Apps are no different. There is a certain ruthlessness in deleting the apps you have purchased and the data it stores after it no longer serves.
So it isn't so much, why would you not buy a $2 app when you are willing to blow $2 on a Diet Coke. It's more that, why wasn't the $2 Diet Coke you are shoving into your body given as much due deliberation?
anchor price, i.e. a suggested price, which in this case is the perceived status quo of free or 99 cents. In a famous experiment, students were told to spin a roulette wheel and then make an estimate about some world fact. Even though the roulette wheel obviously* had nothing to do with the question, students who got a higher number from the roulette spin on average made higher estimates.
That said, my comment was more focused on the business decision of making an app like this paid. If you could effectively A/B test this kind of scenario, I wonder which approach would actually lead to more long term revenue.
Now prices are anchored near $1 for the most part.
It's $2.00. I'll probably use it at some near-future unpredictable time. Between now and then I'll probably also spend $50 at Starbucks and $100 at the bar.
$2.00 is not a considered purchase.
Please let's stop with the nanny state nonsense. As others have pointed out its no different to pay phones.
More seriously: what's wrong with asking developers to think about what their creations are enabling?
Just because we can do things, and others do, means we shouldn't discuss the different use-cases and implications? I gather that most people are here to make a quick buck using their technical prowess, but to look away from possible misuse seems very shortsighted.
As in automatically removing them from posts? That would be very stupid because some people use their Google Voice number exclusively, and it shouldn't be up to them to decide how I should be contacted.
It's very annoying, they do it to combat spammers but as an innocent user I get hit all the time with the phone verification.
Craigslist requires that your number be identified as "Fixed Line" or "Mobile" (not "Non-Fixed VoIP" or "Prepaid Mobile") by their provider, ReduceFraud.com, in order for you to be able to complete phone number verification and post in certain sections on CraigsList.
I recommend checking out Plivo btw. They're cheaper in every way and I've heard the voice quality is better.
My company uses Twilio now and just made up my mind to switch to Plivo as soon as I have some free time.
Thanks for the observation on the "burnt" phone numbers from Burner. Just a quick point of clarification - phone numbers released to Twilio sit unused for two months before they are accessible by any other Twilio customer.
Obviously would love to find why Twilio's not working out for you. Hit me up at email@example.com or reply - whichever you feel works best.
Always great to hear from you.
I had to do it to be able to post from Twitter to Google+ automatically through SMS (Google+ lacks a proper API).
I might still add some more features to it, but thinking about the direction right now :)
Just thinking about whether law enforcement or the courts can get details.
Law enforcement wants info on a phone number -> it goes to Twilio -> Twilio links this number at that time to Burner -> Burner links this number at that time to a user account. At this point, I'm not sure how they can link it to a real person. I'm guessing the credits are from in-app purchases, which means Burner itself might not have any real personal info on you and the buck then passes to Apple.
That means three different privacy policies involved and most likely a pretty long delay.
In the future we may consider something more along the lines of a free sample.
1- They better have a very large pool of unused numbers - otherwise it's likely my phone will be randomly ringing due to the many past users of the number I just bought... who knows where and how many times they would have posted the number at.
2- Personally, I don't immediately see how I'd go away from Google Voice, which is free, to a paid service. Because of the above, I prefer to have one or two fixed private numbers which I can always remember. If the number becomes a problem, I can always block the annoying caller or switch to a new number - for free. (I still haven't had to replace my year-old private number, btw).
That being said, it'd be neat to see what people end up doing with true throw-away numbers.
(somehow, it now says "this video does not exist" right now)
(there was a brief outage as we switched video hosts)
I have a very basic cell phone, since I prefer using a laptop to do my browsing/email/development. I like to disconnect at least half my day, and not be at the beck and call (excuse the pun) of a smartphone.
Because I can't really come up with any.
-girl goes out to to pull. Gives her number freely knowing that it's only good for a few days.
- enter online competitions that might be spam. Advertise a job without getting onto a HR spam list
- Sell a used monkey online without fear of monkey spam
- Put up an MVP for a salsa lesson in Denmark. Get a local number using the app you already know about from the monkey business
- Set up sales meeting with your competitors (define licit..)
- Inform on your boss
- Call your uncle in Iran
I'm sure there are lots more. Who doesn't have some temporary/secondary email addresses?