Start-Up Wants To Give Android Users 'Pretty Good Phone Privacy' To Stop Carrier Tracking

cell tower
There is widespread concern over the amount of personal data siphoned off by Google, Facebook, and other big tech companies, but that's nothing compared to what your mobile carrier knows. A startup called Invisiv aims to address that with a new beta of its mobile data service. With Pretty Good Phone Privacy (PGPP), you can get unlimited mobile data with (allegedly) no location tracking.

According to Invisiv, your carrier's towers collect data from every phone that connects, including a unique identifier known as the IMSI. This ID allows carriers to track your location, a cache of data that they can and do sell for profit. You are supposed to be able to opt out of having your data included, but the penalties when carriers ignore your request are so miniscule as to be useless as a deterrent. Invisiv says the justification for IMSI tracking is to verify that your phone number is authorized and not behind on payments, but it's possible to design a system that separates identity from network authentication, and that's PGPP.

The service is available in beta for Android phones, but your device needs to have an eSIM. This internal SIM card is programmable, allowing the Invisiv app to update to a new IMSI on the fly. Invisiv does not have its own network of cell towers—it appears to be your average MVNO in that sense. However, the random, time-limited IMSI numbers will prevent tracking at the network level. Invisiv also offers a Relay "dual-hop" service to hide your IP address, which sounds like a fancy way to describe a VPN.

eSIM settings samsung
The eSIM settings on a Samsung Android phone.

Invisiv plans do not include phone calls or SMS. You can do everything you need with mobile data and a few apps, though. It might not be as convenient, but it keeps your communication more private, especially if you use a privacy-conscious service like Signal. The cheaper Invisiv Mobile Core plan costs $40 per month and included up to 300 MB per day and 9 GB per month. If you go over, the service throttles to 256 Kbps. Mobile Core comes with eight IMSI changes per month. The Mobile Pro plan is $90 per month and has unlimited data with 30 IMSI changes—basically one per day. Both plans also include the relay service.

During the beta, Invisiv will support service across the US, as well as in most European countries. This is only the beginning of what the company wants to do, but the beta is focused on getting a privacy-preserving product out the door so it could offer an alternative to traditional carriers. Future plans may include voice calls, and Invisiv is actively working on bringing its service to iPhones.