(Credit: ProStockStudio)

Over the past couple years, the general public has heard a lot about how your personal data can be collected on the internet and sold without your knowledge or consent. A VPN, or virtual private network, can be one way to improve your privacy, but some details about our lives remain difficult to keep on the down-low. One nagging problem is how many documents available to the public online can be tied to your phone number.

Keepsafe, a developer of privacy-oriented mobile apps and services, has just launched a mobile service called My Number Lookup which may help you figure out how widespread your phone number is on the internet, and what public documents someone may find it on, if they also know your number. It won't solve the privacy problem in one click or tap, but it sounds like a good place to start.

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The data it brings back to you may include your full name, home address, age, gender and the name of your mobile phone carrier.

To use the service, simply text the word "Hello" to the service's phone number at (855) 228-4539. It will then report back with all the public documents it's found online where your phone number appears. My Number Lookup is free to use, though the fine print reads: "By [texting] us, you consent to receiving marketing [texts] at your number from My Number Lookup."

Presumably, such texts would advertise the company's paid products. For example, Unlisted provides temporary throwaway phone numbers for $2.99 a month. These "burner" numbers could be used to conduct Craigslist transactions more safely, and to filter out creepoids in social settings. There's also a prepaid option for $3.99 a month. Keepsafe's mobile service competes directly with market leader Burner (Android, iOS), who has both prepaid and subscription plans.

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Note that the service will attempt to block you from checking numbers that don't belong to you. When you submit your request, My Number Lookup will send an authentication code via SMS back to you, and you must send this code from the number you're conducting a search on before you get your report.

We say "attempt" because SMS has become notoriously unreliable as a means of securely acquiring authentication codes. We definitely recommend that you use a code generating app whenever possible, such as Google Authenticator (Android, iOS). SMS sends codes that can fail to arrive due to network conditions, and they can be intercepted by someone who's obtained a duplicate SIM card from your mobile carrier under false pretenses.

Either way, if you choose to use My Number Lookup and you find personal data that you don't want floating around the internet, Keepsafe offers a blog post containing general instructions about how to restore your privacy.

Correction: This article previously stated that My Number Lookup does not have a pre-paid payment option.

Takeaways

  • Privacy-oriented app developer Keepsafe has launched a mobile service called My Number Lookup, which can search for instances where your mobile phone number appears in documents that are publicly available on the internet.
  • However, the service uses SMS codes to verify that you're the owner of the phone number in question. This method has inferior security when compared to app-based authentication.

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Tom McNamara is a Senior Editor for CNET's Download.com. He mainly covers Windows, mobile and desktop security, games, Google, streaming services, and social media. Tom was also an editor at Maximum PC and IGN, and his work has appeared on CNET, PC Gamer, MSN.com, and Salon.com. He's also unreasonably proud that he's kept the same phone for more than two years.