Culture

Flipper is bringing ‘burner phones’ to Britain

By Oliver Smith 10 October 2017
Image: Getty/eugenekeebler.
Summary

Teachers, online traders and parents are quickly finding new uses.

Travel to the US and you’ll hear the phrase ‘burner phone’.

For the uninitiated, a ‘burner phone’ or ‘burner number’ is a pay-as-you-go phone number used for only a short period of time, before being discarded.

And no, it’s not just used on shows like The Wire by criminals or corrupt politicians in House of Cards, but in real life too.

Whether it’s security conscious-types concerned about their privacy and government surveillance, freelance business people who need a second number, or increasingly, online traders and daters who don’t want to hand out their actual number.

While ‘burner phones’ began as a US phenomenon, and spawned into a multi-million dollar industry, now a new group of entrepreneurs are trying to introduce them to digital life in Britain.

Meet Flipper

“We’ve found it’s been hugely popular for dating, online buyers & sellers, and generally anyone who doesn’t want to hand out their private number via the internet to people they can’t validate straight away,” Josh Aspess the co-founder of Flipper told The Memo.

Flipper is a free iOS app that lets anyone rent a new ‘burner number’ for as little as £1.99 a month, which can later be dumped with no-commitment, or temporarily disabled (say, at the weekend).

Aspess was inspired to create the app after finding out an ex was stalked and harassed by someone she’d met online.

She couldn’t block his number as it kept changing, nor could she delete her own number as she relied on it for work.

If only, he thought, she’d used a disposable number instead.

“The more we considered the idea of disposable mobile numbers, the more we saw that there were already very successful case studies in the US and Canada, but none at the time in the UK.”

Today there’s clearly a use for such numbers.

Flipper has university lecturers using it to keep in contact with their students, expats in Nepal wanting a UK mobile number on their foreign handsets, even parents wanting a hotline for their kids to call in an emergency.

And Flipper isn’t the only company wise to the opportunity. Shuffle lets you have another number and Swytch lets you setup up to five ‘burner’ UK phone numbers from a single device.

Time for a new number?