June 6, 2013 was probably a good day for the development team over at Ad Hoc Labs. After several years of information collection, journalists at the Guardian and Washington Post exposed PRISM, the comprehensive surveillance program run by the United State National Security Agency. A sudden media spotlight on privacy concerns may have given Ad Hoc’s team a needed boost to promote Burner, a smartphone app offering disposable, temporary phone numbers.
Aimed at privacy protection, the app allows users to create functioning phone numbers for specified amounts of time with the ability to “burn” the number when no longer desired. Ad Hoc touts the service as providing “a layer of privacy for your phone” and offers it free to download with a one-time, one-day trial for five free voice calls or fifteen free texts. To continue using, users are required purchase credits to keep their private phone numbers alive and running.
Originally launched for iPhone, Burner came to Android in April of this year, and came back into the news last week after grabbing $2 million in seed funding from several investors. The investor news comes alongside an i07 redesign and feature update, which improved usability for managing multiple numbers. Greg Cohn, the firm’s co-founder, says users are using the app for “everything, from dating and Craigslist and things like that you might expect, to teachers, lawyers, musicians, midwives, people posting lost-dog posters, and even celebrities,” but the app also has an obvious connection to seedier intentions. For starters, the service’s name is inherently linked with the street nickname for throwaway prepaid cellphones, popularized by the early-2000’s TV drama The Wire. And it’s difficult not to picture Burner in context of this week’s bust of the Silk Road, the shadowy e-commerce site that utilized bitcoins to fuel an extensive, online criminal marketplace. The supreme convenience of anonymizing calls and texts may lead to the service living up to its namesake as the prepaid phone of the modern day.
The additional funding means big things for Ad Hoc Labs. With its own revenue streams to tap into, the company can now focus on growth and furthering their vision of the service. Immediate hiring plans are now in the works, with current job ads up for multiple technical roles including backend engineers and mobile developers. The business’ potential could be vast: from corporate employees relying more and more on their own personal cell lines to conduct business to an increase interest in consumer-focused social apps built on transiency like Snapchat.