Telegram is a hugely popular, widely-used encrypted messaging platform with millions of active users. The platform has supporting apps developed on every major hardware platform, inclduing including Android, iOS, Windows NT, Mac, and Linux. Using Telegram, users can send messages, video streams, audio files, and other content anonymously around the world. As of October 2019, Telegram had more than 300 million active monthly users, making it one of the leading messaging apps in the world, and probably the popular leader among messaging systems focused on privacy.
There is one rather glaring security hole in Telegram – when you register for an account with the service, you have to provide a phone number to which you have access in order to allow Telegram to validate the app. Furthermore, unlike some apps where this kind of “identifying” information is entirely done on the honor system, Telegram enforces its requirement for a genuine phone number by using that number to validate new accounts. You can’t just give it a fake number, either, as you have to receive a message on that number in order to verify your account and start using the service. It is true that Telegram doesn’t use that number for anything after you register, but for privacy-minded users seeking to preserve their anonymity, having to provide a phone number at all is a bad start, as it permits governments and/or law enforcement to identify that a Telegram account at least was accessible to an identified person.
Fortunately, it is simple to bypass this requirement in one way or another. In this article I will walk you through the process of getting a Telegram account without having to give the service your actual phone number.
How Can I Hide My Number in Telegram?
Is it possible to just completely avoid the telephone number requirement in Telegram? In a word, no. You cannot circumvent account verification in Telegram. The phone number requirement is designed to prevent bots and automated account creation. However, this doesn’t mean you have to give Telegram YOUR phone number.
When you register for a Telegram account, you have to give a number and either receive a voice call at that number or receive an SMS text message at that number. The call or the text will contain a verification code, which you will then use to validate your Telegram account.
Once that call or text has been received, however, you do not need further access to the number you provided. So in reality, you don’t need a phone number to use Telegram – you just need a phone number for a minute or two. Fortunately, there are a lot of ways to get a phone number for a minute or two, or for even longer. I’ll review several options to get a temporary number, quickly and for free.
Google Voice is the web-based calling app from Google that provides users with an entirely new phone number that can be used for voice calls as well as SMS messaging. With a ton of features, Google Voice is an extremely handy tool for any online user. The only downside to a Google Voice number is that it is associated with your Google account; if your main concern is just preventing Telegram from knowing who you are, then that won’t matter. If you’re trying to avoid government or law enforcement entanglements, then a Google Voice solution isn’t going to be the route for you.
Assuming Google Voice works for your security needs, here’s how to use Google Voice to get a Telegram account set up.
- Go to Google and set up a new account if necessary.
- Navigate to Google Voice and register or select a phone number.
- Register that number with Telegram and wait for the confirmation code to delivered.
- Retrieve the code from your Google Voice window and type it into Telegram.
- Confirm your account and begin using it.
Burner is a very useful app that works as a call forwarder. You rent a temporary phone number and give it out to whomever you want. The call is received by the Burner server and forwarded from them to your real number. The caller has no idea of your real number and Burner doesn’t share it with anyone. There are two types of accounts, a short term burner number ideal for listing items on Craigslist or for verifying Telegram. There is a longer term subscription number that you keep for however long you like. The short-term numbers are free, while the long-term numbers have a modest cost.
FreePhoneNum.com is completely free provider of burner numbers. The service offers a very temporary number for verification or any other purpose. I have used this service to verify membership to a website and it works. Some of the numbers provided fail but if you persevere and keep trying, one should work.
Receive SMS is another free service I have used to verify membership without giving out my own number. It can work with Telegram but has the same issue that FreePhoneNum.com has in that not all numbers work all the time, iI may take a little trial and error to find one that works. Then it’s just a case of watching incoming messages for the verification and adding that to your Telegram account on your phone.
Avoiding Other Identification Risks
The reality is that avoiding association between your Telegram account and your phone number is only one possible way for a Telegram account to be tied to your computer or smartphone. Besides connecting a registered phone number to the Telegram account, forensic data scientists can also draw connections between your device’s GPS functions and your Telegram account. For example, if a Telegram account located on a particular segment of the Internet placed a call to ISIS, and the FBI agents following you were aware that you were at that precise location at that precise time, and were seen to be talking on the phone, then that is one step closer to definitively proving that it was the government control.
Another potential weakness in your anonymity is the fact that your device’s unique MAC address is also stored in at least a couple of places along the network backbone. In theory a sufficiently motivated government or law enforcement will have the resources to defeat your attempt at ultimate anonymity. As it happens, there are programs to change your MAC address, as well as the ever-popular VNC offerings.
Something to think about: if they’re busy listening to the phones computers, they may have started to forget about the radios.
Have any other suggestions for free numbers to use for registering at Telegram? Share them with us in the comments below!
We’ve got additional resources for the privacy-minded user.
If you want to keep your messages in one place, see our guide to pinning messages in Telegram.
Wonder if WhatsApp might be more to your liking? Find out which is better, WhatsApp or Telegram.
If you have a group you want to communicate with, we’ll walk you through how to create, manage, and leave a group in Telegram.
If you need to get rid of your messages, check out our tutorial on how to delete all your messages in Telegram.