When was the last time you gave your phone number to someone, and then later, wished that you hadn't? Maybe it's that psycho ex-signficant other? Or, perhaps you unwittingly gave your number to some company only to find that they handed it over to some telemarketer who won't leave you alone. Or, maybe you've posted a classified ad somewhere and, by the time whatever transaction involved is completed, you don't want anybody calling you anymore.
To put you back in control of the voice communications part of your life, there are a bunch of services cropping up on the Internet that, when all is said in done, allow you to keep your real phone number to yourself while giving all those that you know a special number that's assigned just to them, and that rings through to your real number, but only if you want it to. These services offer all kinds of features (for example, voice mail systems where you can screen a call while someone is leaving a message) and I've already written a four page essay that goes into greater detail about the pros and cons of the services. I also provide a list of the various competitors in the market.
One of those providers, Jangl, does things a little bit differently. With Jangl, you put a clickable "Jangl Me" link on any of the digital expressions of your persona (your blog, your e-mails, your MySpace, your Web site, IM, etc.) and when other people click on it, they'll be led down a path that ends with a special phone number that's especially for them, when they want to contact you. What's special about Jangl is that the same number is what you use to contact them (and neither party gets to know the others real phone number). This two-way anonymity is one feature that sets Jangl apart from the others. Jangl just got a nice write-up in USA Today and, here at ZDNet, I did a podcast interview of the company's CEO and founder Michael Cerda.
Using the Flash-based audio player above, the interview can be downloaded or streamed to your desktop. Or, if you're already subscribed to ZDNet's IT Matters series of podcasts, it should turn up on your computer and/or your portable audio player automatically (it just depends on how you have your podcatching setup). Update: If you're not seeing the Flash-based player, we're aware of the problem and working on it.
Here are some of the questions that I asked, and Cerda's answers.
ZDNet: [With Jangl, if] we both have the same number [to call], I call it and it knows to go to you and you call it and it knows to come to me, how does it figure out who's calling and where it needs to go? If you have anonymous calling [turned on from my landline], like I have on my [landline now], do I have to turn that off temporarily for [Jangl calls] so it knows where [the call is] coming from?
Cerda: In the initial implementation, it's absolutely caller ID based, so you would hear a voice prompt, asking you to turn that feature off, if you had caller ID blocking. In future revs., there will be other ways to deal with that beyond caller ID. We'll give you an option to have a user PIN that authenticates. To make it easy, given most people do have caller ID turned on and use it today, especially in the mobile world, we're making it easier for them by just authenticating this jangl number by way of their phone number caller ID and my phone number caller ID. So, two people's phone numbers provision to become a jangl phone number. And as we've said, that number is unique between you and I. Well if "Tim" comes and wants to talk to me, he presses the jangl widget on my blog for example, and he's gonna get a number, that number's gonna be a different number.
ZDNet: Some of the other competitors to Jangl out there are offering more of a service where you just give out a phone number...
Cerda: Yeah and that's very true in fact anybody else that's doing something along the anonymous or privacy lines is absolutely saying, "here's a phone number, go give it out." We've done that in prior beta iterations and what we've learned in that, it was kind of like an "ah ha" moment for us, while there were people that used it and liked it, you know, one example was one guy sold his car on craigslist using one of our early beta jangl numbers...and..he posted on craigslist, he was selling, I forget what kind of car it was a Cadillac or something, and so, what happened in the process, was he was able to get calls, right? People called that number and it forwarded to his real number...and he was able to receive calls, but if they landed in his voice mail, he had to call them back. Now he had to make that return phone call. When he makes that return phone call, unless he's like you that already has anonymous caller on, he's gonna compromise that entire premise immediately, because he's gonna call "Joe Car-buyer" and "Joe Car-buyer" is gonna answer the phone and see his caller ID coming in. So now, "Joe Car-buyer" is going to be able to call him directly at his mobile phone. That is the fundamental piece that I believe is, seems now obvious after testing it on users, anyway, that's why the need for bidirectional numbers."
ZDNet: Bidirectional privacy is really what it comes down to...What about business usages? You just described a scenario involving some commerce, buying a car for example, but are there others?
Cerda: Absolutely. Think about going to a trade show, that's usually business related, typically for us. You could give out a jangl ID or a card, like for example, I was just at a trade show and I gave out business cards at it like everybody else, but I don't put my mobile phone number on that at all, I put my jangl ID on there and people will get numbers to call me and they actually have since that trade show. Well, I can really control and manage that. I can immediately realize, "Oh yeah this is that one guy...you know, from such and such company, don't need to talk to him, it's gonna be a waste of time." So I turn it off and he's not able to reach me.
ZDNet: What you're getting at is "Oh if you have nothing to hide then you shouldn't worry about this," but there are plenty of people who think otherwise, who say, "Wait a minute, it doesn't matter if I have anything to hide or not. I have got a certain amount of privacy that I am entitled to and this is included in that. Google was hoisted up on the pedestal for being a champion of those rights....and some other companies were raked over the coals for buckling too quickly. It's not neccessarily the fact that people who want privacy will always be somebody who has malicious intent or is committing a crime.
Cerda: We are less transactional by nature than other services that you'll encounter. And we are very much outward facing as a compnay, you know, you come to our website and you see you know a company picture, you see biographys, you see who our investors are, where we are located. You are not going to find that on other anonymous calling service websites neccessarily. You are gonna know a lot less about them, what they're doing, how they're doing it. And that's my guess as to where people will go that are doing things for sort of malicious intent. Now, on the topic of privacy for privacy sake, and we shouldn't give people up, no we're not going to give people up, all I'm saying is, if the FEDS come to us, we have to behave just like any other telecommunications service provider any say "here are the records, level 3 has them," you know Vonage does this. So that is where we are different than an online search engine, we are a telecom provider and people do things with phones right, it's a big deal, it's a different aspect. And I think by and large people get that. So, I'm not as worried that we'll have those kind of issues as you alluded that google had and others.