Spam calls suck. There’s nothing worse than an unsolicited call from a telemarketer about life insurance you don’t need, a political organization you don’t support, or a donation you never gave. Luckily, though, there’s a solution in the form of Burner, an app that grants a virtual phone number that will put unscrupulous parties off your real number’s trail. And it’s getting even better: On Tuesday, the company announced integration with Nomorobo, a call-screening integration that automatically filters spam calls.
Burner has been around the block, so to speak. Founded in 2012 by Ad Hoc Labs, it lets users in the United States and Canada register an anonymous number that functions just like a cellphone or landline. Using the Burner smartphone app, users can send SMS and MMS messages and place calls, using in-app credits to purchase individual numbers.
The sky’s the limit on the potential use cases. Burner says it services are most often used for solicitous apps and spammers, but not all Burner numbers are used ephemerally. In an phone interview with Digital Trends, Burner CEO Greg Cohn explained the value proposition.
“We broadened the focus of our company from purely privacy and just self-deleting phone numbers,” Cohn said. “We want to be a first-class application and a best-in-class virtual number provider — to enable users to take control of privacy and productivity.”
Burner rolled out a subscription option in October 2015 that allows users to renew a single number each month, and it’s since grown to represent more than 50 percent of Burner’s overall revenue. “We’re seeing people conducting day-to-day business [using Burner],” he said. “We introduced subscriptions in response to that. It was the number one request of users.”
Nomorobo integration targets that long-term contingent of users — those who rely on Burner numbers as their primary business, or even personal, lines.
Enabling Nomorobo integration is straightforward enough. Once Burner updates to the latest version available, it will switch on by default for all Burner lines. A prompt will inform users when the integration is ready, and give them the option to turn it off.
When Nomorobo call screening is enabled, known “bad actors” like robocallers and telemarketers are prescanned. The service automatically cross-references a database compiled with the help of the FTC, user reports, and other security mechanisms “designed to foll robots and other spammers.”
“We think they’re the best in the game,” Cohen said.
Nomorobo’s not perfect, of course, but calls that the service incorrectly filters can be whitelisted. And call screening can be disabled at any time.
Still, it’s one of the most successful cross-industry attempts yet at combating robocalls. The Federal Trade Commission received more than 3 million complaints about telemarketers this year, more than triple the number in 2009. And it reports that they cost consumers $350 million annually in calling and service fees.
Time Warner Cable rolled out Nomorobo integration several years ago, but Burner is the first virtual number service to roll out native integration.
Nomorobo’s just one of many third parties that support Burner’s platform. The app’s API, Burner Connections, allows users to integrate Burner numbers with a variety of third-parties services which archive text messages, sync voicemails, automatically respond to incoming messages, and more. “We think of it as a software layer to connect other applications,” Cohn said. “In the same way we connect to Nomorobo, we connect to Slack, Gmail, Dropbox, Google Sheets, Dropbox, and Evernote.”
“We’re doing all of my business from cellphone,” Cohn said. “Everybody’s expecting stuff all the time, and we’re sitting with powerful computers that have phone functions stuck in the dial-up era,” he said.
“We definitely think that communications, and telephone specifically, have been left behind by the wave of social innovation that’s happening. The network should be smarter, it should be more socially aware and more privacy-aware.”