Why Data Only? Our Focus on Privacy

February 10, 2022

We’ve received some weird looks from folks when we told them we’re a data-only network and that users won’t be able to get a phone number from Pollen. “How is that a real mobile network then?” they ask.

Privacy and Anonymity

The answer is: we’re not a phone company. We’re a mobile network company. We made this design decision for a number of reasons, the most important being our commitment to privacy and anonymity.

All calls and SMS routed through traditional phone companies are inherently not private. Every call and every SMS message you send through a phone carrier is tied to your identity / account, is logged, and can be intercepted / read without your permission–or even your knowledge (see: Lawful Interception).

Even when using apps that feature end-to-end encryption, your traffic is still routed to the open internet through the phone company, who tracks what IP addresses your traffic is going to / coming from, your data volumes and patterns of behavior, etc. which they then sell to others.

Furthermore, your location data is very valuable (see: Twelve Million Phones, One Dataset, Zero Privacy).

In order for Pollen to access the systems that would enable traditional (i.e., non-VOIP) voice calls and SMS, we would have to become a traditional phone company and would, of course, comply with the applicable regulations.

So How Do Pollen Users Make Voice Calls Or Send Messages?

There are many apps available today that can provide voice and messaging services that when used on Pollen will ensure that no party within the Pollen network can intercept your data traffic or monitor where it’s going to or coming from. Such apps include Signal, iMessage, and WhatsApp. All of these apps provide end-to-end encryption that make it nearly impossible for any third party to decrypt messages, including the organizations providing the apps.

By creating Pollen, our goal is to extend privacy from the application layer to the transport layer (see: OSI model).

So How Do I Use Apps That Require A Phone Number?

There are a number of services that enable users to obtain a phone number without needing to sign up for a plan with a traditional phone company, including Google Voice.

Privacy is a pretty complex topic that we really want to get right at Pollen, and something that we'll continue to iterate on as we grow the network.