There is a fascinating new service which was just released for general Beta testing 12 days ago that allows you to create a disposable phone number which will redirect calls to your real number – but only for a predetermined amount of time.
I first encountered the site the day it went live, but for some time now I’ve been trying to determine exactly what one would use this for. Now that I’ve had time to digest, I’ve tested the service, recorded the results and posted them here for all to see.
First, a (very) little about the site offering this service:
- The service is being offered at CraigsNumber.com.
- There is no information available about who exactly runs this site, so it is impossible to know if they are trustworthy.
- I did a Whois on the domain name to see if there was any registrant information; however, the domain is registered anonymously.
Registrar Name….: BlueHost.Com
Created on…………..: 2006-12-07 03:50:51
Expires on…………..: 2007-12-06 20:50:51
Registrant Info: (FAST-12785240)
1548 N Technology Way, #D13
Orem, Utah 84097 United States
- They make absolutely no guarantees with regards to usage.
- Their usage terms state:
I agree to abide by applicable government laws relating to the use of craigsnumber. I understand that there are no warranties for the services provided by craigsnumber.
- They offer a small fact sheet here.
After giving it some thought, I came up with some noble purposes for this service. I can also come up with a few questionable ones, but they are mitigated by two features:
- The caller ID on your phone displays the incoming callers number. If you don’t recognize it you don’t have to accept the call.
- The caller is requested to announce themselves before the call is routed to you. You then listen to that message before deciding to take the call.
Good examples of how this service might be employed:
- You’re going to a store to purchase something which requires delivery. You give them a disposable number good for one week just so you can get calls prior to delivery – thus preventing future solicitations.
- You’re at a bar and you meet someone. You give them a craigsnumber to contact you. If they don’t call within the allotted time at least you don’t have some stranger floating around with your number out there.
- You’re a single mom with sole custody of a child. You don’t want to give the father your number because you know he’ll stalk you – but you want your kid to be able to at least hear from their father once in a while. You e-mail him a craigsnumber, from a disposable G-mail account, with instructions to call.
- Something terrible is going on and you need to blow the whistle, but you need anonymity. E-mail a note, from a disposable G-mail account, and include a craigsnumber so they can call you and verify facts.
- Bill collectors or bounty hunters could use the service along with other deceptive practices to get fugitives to call them back. Send a postcard saying “You’ve won a prize! Call this number to claim it!”
- Sneaky sales people could employ similar tactics.
- Drug dealers could probably find a way to employ this to save money on disposable phones.
- CraigsNumber is not disclosing the technology utilized to deliver this service. Therefore it is completely possible that they are able to monitor and record every call routed by their service.
- On the other hand, it’s also possible that this is just an anonymous “find me” call routing technique and once the call is routed their servers disconnect. But users should take the service providers silence on these matters as a reason to be extremely cautious.
- We have no way of knowing if this service is being financed by a group seeking to develop a list of valid phone numbers for purposes of Tele-marketing, or some even more diabolical reasons.
- Since this service utilizes regulated phone lines, the government could get access to all of the call records maintained by craigsnumber. We do not know how often they delete call records, if ever.
The Test Call
As mentioned previously I did set up a test number and make and record a complete call so everyone can hear the process. Here’s what happened:
- I went to CraigsNumber.com and chose a number in my own area.
- I entered my phone number and chose a the length of time for the number to be valid.
- I called the number from my home speakerphone. The service picked up and asked me for the extension number and then asked me to record an announcement.
- My cellphone rang, displaying the correct caller ID. After answering there was a general announcement that that the call was from craigsnumber, followed by the specific caller announcement.
- I had to press the number 1 on my keypad to accept the number, at which time the call was connected.
All in all I think this is a great idea. My biggest concern is that I’m not sure how craigsnumber intends to monetize the service. Companies are not in business for charitable purposes.
I’d feel much better if I knew that a reputable privacy advocate organization like the EFF was behind this service.
I am alerting them that I’ve posted this review and inviting them to respond publicly if they care to. In my e-mail to them I included an authentication method so that I can verify the legitimacy of anyone claiming to respond on their behalf.
Update: after receiving a response to my e-mail I spoke with two of the founders of the company. I’ve posted their responses here.