Protection: Voice-over-IP

This section, to me, wavers somewhere between "optional" and "critical" depending on your situation. If you are a freelancer, if you're still dating around, if you work in a high-profile or sensitive position, if you're job hunting, or any other similar situation, this section is critical for you. I would define a "similar situation" as any situation where you hand your phone number out frequently to strangers or you have an increased need for privacy (such as the "high profile position" caveat). If you don't feel you fall into this category, consider this section "not mandatory but highly recommended."

Voice-over-IP is the technology allowing phone calls to be sent over the internet rather than phone protocols. The capability has been around for decades and has actually been extremely common in the commercial world as an efficient way to manage multiple phone numbers in office environments. The technology has recently started to become popular with cell phones as a way to circumvent needing to "use minutes," and even more recently has become popular for its privacy implications.

Why SIM is Bad

Regular SIM phone numbers are tied to individuals. In some parts of the world, an indentification is needed. Here in America, the most common way it gets tied to a person is by setting up a phone plan in your real name, often accompanied by a credit check so you can buy an expensive smartphone on a payment plan. Once that happens, the phone number issued by your cell provider basically becomes a type of social security number, and there are numerous websites where I can type in your phone number and get varying degrees of information about the owner of that number. Usually at a bare minimum I can get the provider and general location of the the owner (often accurate to within the city). Sometimes I can get a full address, a full name, roommates, historical information, and more.

Voice-over-IP numbers are significantly less regulated and therefore give away immensely less information. Often with a VoIP number I'm lucky if I can find the registrar who assigned the number, much less a name or location associated with it. So by using a VoIP number instead of your real number, you dramatically reduce risk to yourself.

Advantages of VoIP

Using VoIP is a great way to compartmentalize your life. For example, using a VoIP number exclusively for dating is a great way to protect against potential stalkers. Rarely will a manipulative or dangerous person reveal this on the first date. You may not start seeing red flags for quite some time. As such, a VoIP number is handy here. The person won't be able to research the number and find any information about you, and once you start to see the red flags you can cut off the number and lose them before you put yourself in danger.

Another handy feature of VoIP is the professional protection. As a freelancer, I can give out my work phone number to anyone they want and not have to worry about an angry client doxxing me or discovering any personal aspects of my life that I may not want them to know. Consider this: in some states, public records are so open that many people search websites are able to connect your phone number to your voter records and publish your registered party online. I, personally, try to be apolitical in my professional life, and I would hate for a client to not hire me based on my political leanings without getting to know me first. I have frequently worked for clients who openly voice different political opinions than me and almost all of them have become regular customers. Imagine if I'd lost that reliable income stream because they looked my number up online and decided to pass based on a snap judgement of me exercising my legal rights.

Additionally, on the topic of work, with many people now working from home, a VoIP number allows you to create and enforce a healthy work/life balance. I do not have my work email on my phone, and if after-hours calls or texts ever become an issue, I can set my VoIP number to turn off after hours so that it doesn't even ring. My coworkers would have no choice in this situation but to wait for me to decide to check my messages and contact them. It should go without saying that I don't recommend this if your job actually demands that you be on call, such as an EMT or tech support, but in all other situations this can be a great way to enforce those healthy boundaries.

Note: None of these options are highly privacy respecting, and none of them are open source. As explained below the table, VoIP is not meant to be a replacement for encrypted messaging. As such, I'm presenting a wide rang of options for your consideration, but be aware that none of them are truly private or safe.

Product/Service Pros Cons

Google Voice
  • Unlimited numbers available
  • Free
  • US and Canada
  • No group chats
  • No video chats
  • App only
  • No disappearing messages
  • Forwards numbers to your SIM
  • No privacy, requires Google
  • Based in The United States

MySudo
  • Up to 9 numbers available
  • Includes fully functional email, web browser, and digital masked cards
  • Works independently of your SIM number
  • Zero-knowledge
  • End-to-end encrypted (to other Viber users)end-to-end encrypted (to other MySudo users)
  • US, Canada, and UK numbers only
  • No group chats
  • No video chats
  • Desktop client in beta, web-based only
  • No disappearing messages
  • Based in The United States

Viber
  • Group chats
  • Video chats
  • Destkop client
  • Zero-knowledge
  • End-to-end encrypted (to other Viber users)
  • Disappearing messages
  • Worldwide usage
  • Independent of your SIM number
  • External messaging and calling cost extra
  • Only one number available
  • Based in Japan

Getting Stared

Almost across the board, I recommend MySudo. It is available for both iOS and Android, and usable plans (meaning plans that will give you the ability to communicate with non-MySudo users, which is most people) begin at $1 USD per month, or $10 per year. I would recommend SudoPro or SudoMax ($5/$50 and $15/$150 respectively) for most people depending on your needs. Pro will probably suit most people, as it allows 3 phone numbers which can be used for work, personal, and other. More advanced readers may want the 9 numbers allowed by Max. If you're on a tight budget, I recommend Google Voice. This will allow you to create VoIP numbers that forward to your real number. If you live outside the US, UK, or Canada, then Viber is the clear choice.

Tips & Tricks

Keep in mind that VoIP is not meant to replace secure messaging. Just as with a regular SIM phone call or SMS message, you should assume that anything you say or type might be recorded and be plainly visible to any employees or law enforcement. VoIP is recommended in this context purely as a way to keep your data out of people search websites and protect against relatively-unsophisticated threats like a stalker or doxxer.


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