Burning iPhone

Ad Hoc Labs made waves last year when it began offering users disposable telephone numbers through its Burner app for iOS. While the media was quick to run with the “fake numbers for criminals” angle, its uses have been far more practical including ecommerce, online dating, and other peer-to-peer networks which may demand additional caution. Today, the company is doubling the reach of the product with the launch of an Android version, as well as making significant upgrades to the iOS app.

Ad Hoc CEO Greg Cohn sees Burner as a mobile identity protection and security product for everyday people. “I continue to be surprised with the number of different uses people have come up with for the app,” he says. “We’ve seen lots of Craigslist activity, but also hear from teachers, doctors, lawyers, and other professionals. We’ve started to think of this as a blank canvas type of app that everyone finds their own utility for.”

The updated iOS version reflects this idea, with new features including customizable voicemail greetings; the ability to manage call history by starring, renaming, or hiding conversations; and improved notifications of in-bound calls, missed calls, and voicemails, among other additions.

Cohn has been experimenting with various price points over the six months since Burner’s launch, ranging from $1.99 to free. Today, Ad Hoc will make the product free to download permanently, with a free sample Burner which lasts one day, and includes five voice minutes and 15 text messages.

A Burner can be disposed of or extended through the purchase of additional credits – available in packages of three for $1.99 to 25 for $11.99 – and users can have multiple Burners simultaneously. Burners can be purchased for durations ranging from seven to 60 days, with these packages including 20 to 27 voice minutes and 60 to 225 texts and costing between three to eight credits. With today’s launch, the company has added a refer a friend program under which both the referrer and the new user each earn free credits to their account upon signup.

The Burner app has maintained a 4-star App Store rating, and has been a Top-10 grossing utilities app and a Top-20 rated overall app. One thing that has helped the app spread is its ability to deliver value in the “single user” case. In other words, it doesn’t matter if not a single person you know is using Burner, it still provides full value immediately upon download. Inbound calls and texts are routed directly to the user’s personal phone number – it uses carrier voice minutes and text messages – while outbound communication sent through the Burner app is masked under the temporary number.

Cohn, who is a former Senior Director and Global Head of Product at Yahoo, has grown his team to 10, which now includes dedicated product teams for both Android and iOS. The company announced a Seed funding of undisclosed size in October which included 500 Startups, TechStars founder and CEO David Cohen, Say Media founder Ted Rheingold, Zynga SVP Robert Goldberg, Kevin Slavin, Ric Calvillo, and additional undisclosed funds and angels.

Since its launch, Burner has been as controversial as it has been popular with mainstream news outlets going so far as to suggest that it facilitates crime. But Cohn says that he has spoken to the appropriate authorities and regulators, who have no issue with his app. At the same time, the company is clear in its Terms of Service that it’s purpose is user-to-user privacy, but not hiding from the government nor encrypting conversations. And while the CEO says that he has not had any law enforcement requests to date, that Ad Hoc would comply with any official subpoenas should it ever come to that.

Burner operates as a privacy layer between the user and the outside world. There are countless of cases where users wish to maintain a degree of distance between themselves and the people they’re communicating with. This fact will only increase as home and office landline phones go the way of the Dodo and cell phones become our lone communication device. Ad Hoc is smart to think ahead and build Burner into a comprehensive privacy and identity protection layer for this reality.