Friday, September 22, 2023

Firefox’s new service gives you a burner phone number to reduce spam

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Shreya Christina
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Firefox Relay, a Mozilla service designed to hide your “real” email address by giving you virtual email addresses, is expanding to offer virtual phone numbers. In a blog post Tony Amaral-Cinotto, Mozilla’s product manager, explains that the forwarding service generates a phone number that you can give to businesses if you suspect they might use it in the future to send you spam, or if you think they might use this number. can share with others who will.

The idea is that handing out this alternate phone number will make it easier to block spam calls or text messages in the future. You can block all calls or text messages sent to your forwarding number, or block only specific contacts. Importantly, this allows you to keep your “real” phone number private, something you might consider if it’s a number you use to receive sensitive information, such as two-step verification codes via SMS.

A screenshot of the Firefox Relay interface.

A screenshot of the Firefox Relay interface.
Image: Mozilla

“How many times have you shared your song without thinking much about it?” Mozilla’s blog post asks. “When you sign up and accept the terms of service, you also agree to share your personal information such as your phone number with those companies – plus any of their third-party partners.” It notes that sharing your number in this way increases the chances of it leaking and ending up on a spam caller list.

Once you’ve signed up, the Firefox phone number masking service offers 50 minutes of incoming calls and 75 text messages per month. Mozilla’s blog post states that you can use its service to respond to text messages from your last sender, but you can’t make outgoing calls or text whoever you want (although the organization says they are investigating whether they can offer these as features in the future).

Unlike Firefox Relay’s existing email relay feature, which allows you to generate multiple email addresses that are forwarded to your real account, the phone number service only gives you access to one relay phone number and notes that it cannot be changed after is chosen. The phone number masking service is also more expensive at $4.99 per month (or $3.99 per month with annual payment), while the email service offers a choice between a free tier and a premium tier that costs $1. 99 per month ($0.99 per month with annual payment). Finally, the new phone number feature is exclusive to the US and Canada for now, but offers access to email masking as part of the same subscription.

Firefox’s blog post doesn’t mention the use of any encryption on the SMS messages going through the relay service, which isn’t exactly surprising since SMS isn’t an encrypted protocol. We’ve reached out to the company for confirmation, but it’s worth keeping in mind if you’re considering using Firefox Relay to receive sensitive private or confidential texts.

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