4 Responses to “Feds reportedly used phone database to track “burner” use”

    • Kay,
      That’s a silly and disingenuous statement to make. A phone is a tool, nothing more, nothing less. If a person writes a threat on a piece of paper, tapes it to a rock, and throws the rock through a window, does that make the rock evil, and we should ban all rocks?

  1. Hi Greg,

    Thanks for the thoughtful comment and explanation. That’s always been my impression of your service – a way to avoid creating permanent links with creepy Craigslist people or suspect dates, rather than as a counter-surveillance method. Your technical explanation is a helpful addition to the story.

    And, well put, regarding the government collection of civilian records; I think the ongoing legal challenges brought by the EFF and others are the best way to address the appropriate scope of surveillance.

  2. greg cohn

    On behalf of the Burner team, I can offer some clarification of both our policy and our posture. We built the Burner service to provide best-in-class user-to-user and user-to-marketer privacy. We are a great solution if you want a privacy layer between you and car dealers, online dates, clients, job applicants, people you’re doing business with, and so on.

    We did not build Burner as a solution for hiding from government surveillance.

    As of this writing, we have not ever provided user data to law enforcement or anyone acting on their behalf, either programatically or on an a la carte basis. (We have been asked on an individual basis; we have successfully fought every request so far.) We have also invested a lot of thought in our approach to protecting the privacy and data of our users as best we legally can.

    However, we are a US company operating in plain sight under US laws, and we have in the past publicly stated our intention to adhere to them (although only when required to). Also, the way our app operates is as a mask for your underlying phone number, so, while this is a convenient feature and usability benefit for people using Burner for above-board reasons, it has the effect that voice calls are still carried by a user’s wireless carrier, as well as their counterparty’s carrier. Running the Burner app, on a potentially vulnerable iphone or android device, sitting on top of a common US carrier known to provide data to law enforcement, would not be a probable or good choice for someone looking to avoid law enforcement surveillance in a serious way.

    We like it that way — we think Burner is useful and fun to use (it’s very satisfying to “delete” a bothersome car dealer), but we hope our users don’t get too much more crazy than that.

    Speaking personally , I do think it’s a problem that the government is able to obtain bulk records of innocent civilians — but I think the best venue for countering this is in the judicial system.