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Twilio virtual number forwarding

Today I was again confronted by an application that wanted to take my phone number to interact with it…

As a rational person who has owned businesses and worked in start-ups and larger orgs for over a decade.
I Want to be able to pick the channel of communication, so that I can restrict how you communicate with me.
I do not trust your business.
So that I can use your service without discomfort, and (potentially) compromising my entire life.

How many phone numbers do you have?

Most people I know, and have seen data for in systems, only enter one number. What is more important, having encountered several people at multiple organisations, I Know I have only encountered a handful of people with more than one active registered number at a time.

This makes perfect sense because there is less to remember for an individual, a single bill, etc. This is a happy path I hope many of us fit into.

Have you ever used an Uber?

In 2013 I attended an event organised by Twilio. They are a cloud communications / software as a service company. They provide programmatic access to telephone, SMS, multimedia, and fax messages, and provide associated code and software to help businesses use those communications services.

One of their talks was about using a proxy to protect customer information and prevent potential driver abuse. Instead of giving the driver your number, they would have the driver call a number that represented your number. It was not your number. This gives a degree of visibility. The company is charged, so is incentivised to monitor this. This prevents harassment which in turn protects Uber brand.

Doing this yourself

My Business CD2 has a turn-key appliance I use to manage this call-forwarding for other purposes. A Long time ago when phones were (thankfully) much cheaper, I used to lose phones with alarming frequency. One time, I was walking home… It was icy outside… I slipped, hit the ground, and thankfully got up and was able to walk home. What I did not know at the time was that my phone had slipped out of my pocket.

Thankfully, I was younger. My contacts were likely not critical to my own business or others. But you can see a problem if you keep changing your phone number or keep needing a new sim. Perhaps others will miss opportunities too.

Case of a Locksmith

One of my dad friend Paul is a locksmith. They have a web-portal that allows them to market to many locations, with a friendly local number to call, to help people get over the hurdle of locating a locksmith when thinking locally. Now Paul could purchase an office, with secretaries in each location, hire and train other locksmiths, but instead, he uses virtual phone-number forwarding.

This means that he can get calls from a wider area, and setup forwarding to employees etc, without running a call-centre or office, which in-turn helps him to be more competitive. It also means if Paul loses a phone, he calls up, confirms his identity, and changes the number, reducing the opportunity cost of missing important business.

A Solution

Today, I logged into my personal Twilio sub-account. Purchase a new number that started with the prefix 7 in my country. This omits the leading 0 because it has a +44 in front of it. It also means it is extremely hard to distinguish from the type of number I was asked for.

After purchasing the number $1/pcm, I was able to also use the Twilio UI, integrating with a service called TwiML-bin to store the XML to instruct the phone, then the SMS to redirect to my number.

While not as robust as a company solution. And I am not 100% sure how public TwiML-bin are, it allows me some secrecy for a company that likely lacks the resources and willpower to chase down my real number to bother me. If They sell this number. I Will not care, and eventually they will need to grapple with Twilio, who are in 2021 a billion-dollar company.

Code for Voice (my number omitted)
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<Response> <Dial>+447190758442</Dial></Response>
Code for SMS (my number omitted)
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<Response><Message to='+447190758442'>{{From}}: {{Body}}</Message></Response>

Forward thinking

In Conclusion. You can, for a price get privacy and flexibility, if that is important to you. As it is XML, you can use a WebHook instead of the TwiML-bin service. While the trade-off is that you will likely have servers to maintain. This frees you to setup out of office notifications, deeper integrations across your Organization. And you will avoid the annoyance of privacy-conscious coders like me.

  • Providing only one way to reach out to a customer is bad.
  • Requiring customers to provide you a real-time communication method is bad.
  • Businesses that care can use methods like phone-number proxy systems.
  • There are more benefits than privacy, such as flexibility.
  • It is not rocket-science. There is code in the article you could use with minor changes.
  • It is not free.
  • This covers personal use-case. Twilio, or my business or a range of others can help tailor to your needs.