I have just told my friends and family that I no longer have a mobile number. Some of them have looked at me as if I am insane and many have asked me why.

I think it just plain makes sense.

Reduce Distraction

My job mainly involves writing computer code, and to write code well requires focus. Pings of phones, and spam callers disrupt the flow.

WhatsApp is even worse - I see people pinged hundreds of times a day, mainly from group chats they're in. It makes me feel queasy to see how much time many people waste on social media chat, much of it just social virtue signalling.

Reduce Privacy Abuse

I've written about privacy before, but didn't talk about solving the phone problem.

Your phone number is your number one piece of ID.

Email addresses used to be the way that companies identified you. Now they know that email addresses are easy to create, and many people have multiple. So that is why every website like Amazon and Facebook is always pushing to obtain your mobile number. Because most people only have one number, and they don't change it because all their friends have it.

The problem is that...

Hacking is a regular occurrence

Your data is not safe with any third party. Yahoo, Gmail, Twitter, Facebook, Uber, British Airways, Tumblr, eBay... the list of companies that have had major data breaches goes on and on. Check out this extensive list on Wikipedia and you'll realise there's hardly an organisation that hasn't been hacked successfully.

If you think you're immune, I can almost guarantee that someone has already stolen your email address and password. If you want to check go to the Have I Been Pwned? site ("pwned" is hacker slang for compromised) - it will tell you whether your email address is doing the rounds with the hackers and which site was breached to get it.

Email addresses can be changed. It is much harder to change a mobile number, so I don't want a data breach to lead to my number floating around in Hacker's United, and being sold to whoever wants to spam me, advertise to me, or break into my bank account. If one company is breached and your phone number (or email) are stolen, that gives hackers the first bit of information to make it easier to break into your other accounts.

And companies don't need to be hacked. They sell your data anyway.

Phones let untrustworthy organisations know your most personal information.

Your phone tracks your location 24 hours a day. Google continued tracking location even when 'Location' was switched off.

Siri and Google Assistant are listening to your voice all the time you have your phone with you (for most of us that's 24 hours a day).

Phone companies monitor your calls and store all the texts you send. There is nothing to stop them selling that information to other companies to enhance their profits.

Most apps (especially the free ones and certainly Facebook and Google supplied ones such as Chrome browser, Gmail, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp) are monitoring all the searches you do, the friends you have, what your interests are, the times you sleep, where you work, where you live and how best to sell to you. They make their profits by selling that information to the highest bidder (organisations that you would not choose). You don't really think that Gmail is free? Or that the Russian developer who spent weeks building that free game did it out of kindness? Do you?

Some of these problems are resolved if the data stealers don't know who the phone and its number belongs to.

Better Alternatives

There are reasons I have curtains on my windows and locks on my doors. I wouldn't want my friends seeing every message I write, internet search I do, and how I spend all hours of my day and night - so why on earth would I want unethical and profit driven Big Brother companies to have that info and to sell it to anyone they choose?

There are so many better alternatives to phone, text, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger - there is no reason I can see to use them, so I will never install any Facebook app on my phone.

I use Signal Private Messenger, an open source app that offers encrypted text, voice and video calls for free. It's identical in functionality to WhatsApp, but it doesn't steal or sell my data. The Signal website gives information about what Signal is and why you should use it. It's available to download from the App Store and Play Store so works on any phone.

Most of the time I'm in my home where the cell signal is patchy and mobile call quality is bad. But my wifi is really good - so Signal call quality is way better than normal mobile calls. When I'm out, there is almost always mobile data reception, so my actual mobile number is redundant. People I give my Signal number to can always call me using Signal over mobile data. I don't want my phone company reading my texts and selling my data. Signal is private, better quality and free.

It also works as a desktop app as well as on the phone, which suits me because I hate writing on the phone keypad.

Another little tip, that I suspect even most Signal users don't know...

Signal uses a telephone number as your 'username' (i.e. your ID that other people use to contact you). Most people use their actual mobile number. But it doesn't need to be your mobile number. It is only used as a verification when you install Signal, so it can be any number you have control of (home, work, VoIP number, etc). This number can be given out to those you want to be able to contact you on Signal, and those calls come right through to your mobile or desktop app.

Why is this cool?

I have changed to a new mobile number that literally no-one knows - not even my wife. I don't even know it! That way my friends don't write my real mobile number in their Google Contacts book and have Google start tracking me. I can't give it to online services, so I don't care if their databases get hacked.

My family and close friends use my Signal number to message and voice call me now. It's just as easy as using WhatsApp, FaceTime or calling my mobile number.

Those are the only people I don't mind being disturbed by. Other people can contact me by email, which I can read at a time of my own choosing.

Goodbye Google, Facebook, hackers, and creepy Big Brother. Hello peace of mind and reduced distraction.