James Stanley

How to buy phone numbers anonymously

Sat 10 September 2016
Tagged: smsprivacy

Over the last week or so I've been working on a project that allows anyone to buy phone numbers using Bitcoin anonymously, and use them to send and receive SMS. I think this is an important piece of the puzzle of allowing people to interact with the world anonymously, as a large number of services use SMS for account verification or 2-factor-authentication. Being able to buy phone numbers anonymously allows you to create new identities more easily.

(Update: now available as a Tor hidden service at smspriv6fynj23u6.onion)

I launched SMS Privacy yesterday by posting it to Hacker News and the r/bitcoin subreddit. Few people on HN were interested. It took off more on r/bitcoin, however, reaching the number 3 spot at one point.

The upshot of this is that there are now 48 SMS Privacy user accounts, 20 messages have been sent/received, and 10 numbers have been bought. This is the most successful project launch I've had yet. Most importantly, real people have sent me real money, to the tune of 0.12 BTC (~£57).

There is definitely more marketing work to do, as usage of the site has dropped off now that it's off the front page of r/bitcoin, but hopefully it'll have a couple of regular users and will continue to grow.

I think this demonstrates that there is a market for "normal" services that allow anonymous signup. For anybody so inclined, I think a good market to enter would be anonymous VPS hosting: orangewebsite already provide this, but it is extremely expensive (€30/mo for a VPS with only 512M of RAM). I think it shouldn't be too hard to undercut them.

Finally, a couple of people expressed concern that SMS Privacy might primarily be used by fraudsters. I was ignoring this issue to start with, on the basis that "we don't like the users" is a better problem than "there are no users". I don't think this is a huge problem, however, as the service doesn't allow you to do anything you couldn't already do by walking into a shop and buying a phone and SIM card with cash. Another analogy is that I'm just the SMS equivalent of a Tor exit node. Still, I'd rather SMS Privacy not be used by frausters, so I welcome suggestions that might disincentivise fraud without deanonymising users.

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