Phone charging lockers — the kind you’ll find in malls, airports, and stores like Banana Republic — solve a simple problem. They let you charge your phone without tying you to a wall socket, so you can run your errands without the persistent concern that you’ll run out of juice. They’re almost always free, but there’s a catch: These kiosks take your picture and require you to turn over personal information like your email address or phone number.
For starters, the businesses these kiosks are in can use them as a stealthy way to sign you up for loyalty programs to keep you hooked after you leave the store. Companies like ChargeItSpot and InCharged, for example, sell charging lockers that companies can rebrand with their own logo. In ChargeItSpot’s case, part of the deal with those merchants includes sharing the email address and phone number with the merchant when you sign up.
“The phone number is the thing that they can then use with data brokers to figure out exactly who you are.”
With this information, stores can sign customers up for mailing lists. While it’s not uncommon for a cashier to ask for your email address or phone number when checking out, it may prompt you to ask, “What do you need that for?” On the other hand, entering your contact info into a kiosk where you’re about to lock up your phone seems like a no-brainer. What if it gets stolen? They need a way to contact you!
Things get even hairier when it comes to your phone number. Jen King, director of consumer privacy at Stanford University’s Center for Internet and Society, explains that you should think twice about giving up your digits when these kiosks ask. “We don’t ever change our mobile phone numbers, so they become an identifier. In some ways almost like your social security number.”