This is a guest post written and contributed by Will Carter, co-founder and CTO of Ad Hoc Labs, a Rackspace customer that recently launched Burner, an app designed to create and “burn” temporary phone numbers to protect user privacy.
We’ve all heard the stories: Charlie Sheen accidentally tweets his phone number out to the masses and the dialing deluge begins. It’s TMZ’s dream, and a celebrity’s worst nightmare.
Imagine if that social media faux pas was done with a temporary number; one that could be quickly and easily deleted without having to get a new phone, change your actual phone number or do anything other than tap the screen of your iPhone. That’s where Burner comes in.
Burner, an application that we at Ad Hoc Labs just launched, lets users create temporary phone numbers. With those temporary numbers, users can place and receive calls and send and receive texts; turn ringers and notifications on and off; and share those numbers while maintaining privacy. The Burner number even appears on caller IDs.
But as we were building the app, it got us thinking: what happens if a celebrity tweets out a Burner phone number? How many simultaneous reads and writes could we handle? That kept us up at night. So we turned to the Rackspace Cloud and architected the Burner application in a way that it won’t get conked out by high volume – burned by our own burner, so to speak.
Essentially, Burner is a Django app running on multiple Rackspace Cloud Servers on the server-side to support the iPhone client. We have a Load Balancer in place to distribute the load there, and another Load Balancer in place for our web site. All of our Cloud Servers are running CentOS and some of our important static assets are hosted from the Cloud Files CDN.
So far, it’s been awesome and we’ve had great results, even during our hectic launch which put our configuration to the test.
And Burner is not just for celebs looking to protect their privacy. Think about when you sell something on Craigslist. You can set up a temp number for prospective buyers to call, and then kill that number once your item is sold – and no strangers have your actual phone number. You can keep the number active for as long as you like, and then burn it when you’re done with it.
Or, like in the case of Jake Gillum, Burner can be used to fool a suspected bike thief as part of an elaborate mission to recover the stolen cycle. According to reports, Gillum’s bike was nicked in Portland, Ore. Days later, he found someone in Seattle selling it on Craigslist. Gillum used a Burner number on his iPhone and an alias to trick the alleged thief into thinking he was calling from a Seattle number and was interested in buying the bike. From there, he met with the alleged thief, notified police, recovered his stolen bike and the suspect was arrested. “I couldn’t have done this without that app,” Gillum said of Burner in a video of the bike recovery.
Burner for iPhone (iOS 4.3 or greater) is available from Los Angeles-based Ad Hoc Labs via iTunes for $1.99. Burner comes with one short-duration “mini-burner,” and you can buy more numbers, or extend them, through in-app purchases at a starting price of $1.99 for three credits, which is enough to create one seven-day burner number.