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Disposable Phone Numbers

SiliconBeat wrote about Jangl yesterday.  Jangl is a new service aimed at giving users privacy from stalkers (whether over-eager salespeople, or bad dates) by giving you a temporary and disposable phone number.  Similar to AIM Phoneline, except that it allows you to receive calls on ordinary telephones, and it has a cost associated with it, both are aiming to give users a familiar, albeit low tech, way of dealing with the intrusiveness of today’s phones.

The need is real, but I think the approach (temporary new identities) is a bandage fix.  How long until you’ve got so many temporary identities that you can’t reasonably manage them anymore? Moreover, new identities won’t deal with the nuisance callers using autodialers, or  the callers who already have you in their database because of a “prior relationship”.  What’s required are more robust tools for managing the identity you have.  Persona management, and sophisticated filtering tools are the answer — not more phone numbers.

{ 11 comments… add one }

  • Michael Cerda May 30, 2006, 3:20 pm

    Jangl helps consumers control who calls them, when, and what they experience as a result. I agree ‘temporary new identities’ doesn’t scale. That implies the one-to-many road that so many companies have gone down, including AIM Phoneline. We have a truly unique approach that goes beyond anonymous phone numbers….think more ‘relationship-based’ than that. In a Jangl world nuisance callers and auto dialers are indeed minimized. And to top it all off, persona management is a big part of our offering. None of this may be obvious just yet, since we haven’t launched and revealed all just yet. Stay tuned though, I think you’ll recognize that we’re more aligned than meets the eye.

  • John May 30, 2006, 4:46 pm

    I would agree the concept of one-time numbers is hard to see taking off. One thing we did at AOL for AIM Phoneline was to introduce the concept of caller reputation score – leveraging the power of the community to identify abusive callers. We call it the National Do Not Answer registry. On an inbound call, the receiving party can click to log their "vote" that they view this inbound caller as a unwanted caller. We aggregate the votes and then (in a few months from now when we have a statistically valid sample) we will surface a caller reputation score on the inbound call alert you see with each live call. If the number of the calling party isn't one you recognize, and they have a mixed reputation score, you probably won't take that call. It is the first step in addressing the issue you highlight.

  • Alec May 31, 2006, 3:07 am

    Cool. I am looking forward to finding out more Michael.

  • Alec May 31, 2006, 3:08 am

    John, that's a brilliant idea. I've been thinking that a shared blacklist would be a very important feature for some time.

  • Alex Quilici June 4, 2006, 11:31 am

    It's actually a mistake to think of AIM Phoneline numbers as disposable or temporary identities (and this is in fact true of any similar service).

    Simply having a number that's not ringing your home or cell goes a long way to reducing the nuisance effect of unwanted calls – an online popup is dramatically less intrusive than loud ringing. So there's no need to switch numbers over time or have a bunch of them because even annoying callers won't be a big problem, and for the few that are, there are tools to reduce their impact.

    Further, what you'll see happen is that people simply get one AIM Phoneline number and then give that to everyone who they don't want calling on their home and cell – whether it's the dry cleaners, the dentist, the real-estate agent, the car you're selling on cars.com, the flea market furniture seller from whom you need some info, the restaurant at which you made a reservation etc… Remember, these are calls and/or messages that people want, but they just don't want them waking the baby at 8pm or forcing them to fumble for the cell phone while they're driving.

    So it's in effect a permanent identity: you have cell, home, work, and now your extra line for other interactions (which, it turns out, are very significant numbers of calls for many people).

  • Alec June 5, 2006, 2:24 am


    If you really do expect people to use this as a real phone number, then that addresses the concern I raised. It raises another, though. Without a UM system, you've added yet another mailbox for me to manage.


  • Nizar June 14, 2006, 3:43 pm

    The so called disposable number is a blatant lie.
    It should actually be called "recyclable number".
    When I think of disposable, I think toilet papers.
    What worries me most is the recycled number circulating
    through bad guys and finally approaching my teenager.
    Instead of creating safety, it would actually create a nightmare.
    I see tossabledigit, privacall, talktrust.com getting into this business
    with so called extension. I think it's safer to use extensions that never
    gets reused…

    My 2 cents.

  • ooglek July 6, 2006, 11:02 am

    Tossable Digits is a great solution. You can have multiple numbers, cost is pretty cheap, uses local numbers (ie Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City) or Toll Free, and you can disconnect the numbers whenever. Plus Voicemail to Email, call time restrictions (only forward calls between 10am and 6pm), and call screening (ask caller for their name). Pretty sweet. Disposable Phone Numbers baby!

  • ooglek July 6, 2006, 11:03 am
  • joel August 2, 2006, 10:19 pm

    We completely concur with your point about "Its persona management, not multiple numbers".

    With TalkTrust, you can easily segment your networking "domains" and assign a unique extension to each one.
    By enabling complete call management controls per extension (including personal recordings per extension), we solve the persona management problem in a different way.

    We continue to learn from our users. Would love to hear your thoughts on us at: feedback@talktrust.com

    Thanks for your time!

  • Heather K. February 1, 2008, 12:11 pm

    I have used a few of the service providers you mentioned up there. Most of them did exactly what they said. Since I run my own business I need a little more control over when the phone rings and the numbers I can block so my friend suggested Safercalls.com – and has some really neat features. I was looking for a number in Illinois, and even though on the signup they didn't show they had it, I emailed them and they said they do have nationwide temporary phone number converage.

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