How to Privately Buy a Private Phone (A Primer)

​Before diving in, check out the previous post about the privacy issues of mobile devices. This post will address specific strategies around obtaining private mobile phones and plans.


  • Use cash for all transactions.
  • Obtain a factory unlocked mobile phone from retail store (bonus for face mask purchase).
  • Put phone in Faraday bag when it’s not in use.
  • Head to private location.
  • Install a private OS and prepare software for OS flashing.
  • Obtain a SIM for a pre-paid mobile phone service provider (providers like AT&T or T-Mobile).
  • Setup a pre-paid mobile phone plan with a unique alias. ​

A note about dumb phones

This, here, is a good guide about dumb phones – These articles are focused on powerful threats and established threat models. Take in the information and use it accordingly as I won’t re-hash what they state, but one important thing to be mindful of is this:

It will also be crucial not to power on that burner phone ever (not even without the SIM card) in any geographical location that could lead to you (at your home/work for instance) and never at the same location as your other known smartphone (because that one has an IMEI/IMSI that will easily lead to you).

Smart Phones

First, you’ll need to get access to a factory unlocked mobile phone. If you get a phone that isn’t factory unlocked, it may not work with the specific provider. Don’t use a credit card or have it delivered to your home.

If you’re buying a phone in person, then you ought to think of using a face mask for the added privacy benefit. Prior to making your purchase, be sure to perform your due diligence on the specific phone model and make sure it will work with the phone carrier you choose.

Services that allow private payments, like Mamushi, are great to use for ordering your phone. For more privacy strategies when ordering, check out our post about private mail drops.

Your new phone should have a private operating system installed on it. The stock smart phone operating systems are not optimal for the level of privacy you’re looking to achieve.

If you’re opting to pick up a phone in person, then you should do it at a big box store and pay with cash.  Assume this phone is already pinging cell towers and giving off location data before it’s flashed. Best practice would be to throw it in a faraday bag until you’re ready implement the next steps.

Flashing a Private Operating System

Next, you should flash the phone with either Graphene or Calyx OS. There are many other guides out there as well to help with this.

The process of flashing the phone should happen in a public place and disassociated from your personal identity. You should have all of the software ready for the process and understand what you’re doing before attempting the process.

It’s not the best idea to troubleshoot on the fly while still trying to maintain a sense of privacy. After the installation is complete, power the phone off and put it back into the faraday bag.

Private Mobile Carrier

Before you sign up with with a carrier, you’ll need get a SIM card first. Make sure you get the correct SIM card for your device.

Once this is figured out, then you can set up with a carrier. If based in the US, then look for a mobile carrier that offers pre-paid plans. The pre-paid route allows for you to bring in your own device.

Now the carrier won’t need to do a credit check which would otherwise tie your identity to the phone. Choose a carrier store that is not within your locality.

When signing up, the representative will ask for a name. Since you’re paying up front, they don’t care what it is. So you can give them whatever name you want. Once you get a phone number, you can top up your service whenever needed.

A few things to understand:

  • You may need to go to a few stores or providers to find exactly what you’re looking for.
  • If you make a mistake, you can always leave and go to a different store to try again.
  • This might not work 100% the first time, but thats why you want to head in with as much knowledge  as possible.
  • Also, you haven’t really messed up unless you tie your ACTUAL identity to your phone, and that’ll be tough to mess up.

Now you have a phone and number that isn’t tied to your identity.

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