Have you ever been out running errands and your phone battery is running on empty? In these moments, it can be tempting to use one of the increasingly popular phone charging stations available in malls, airports, and various retailers. These kiosks make it super easy to just place your phone in the locker, hook it up to the charger, provide some personal information (just in case you get locked out of course ????), and go on your way! What’s most attractive, the service is usually 100% free - or is it?

According to consumer privacy experts, there’s more to these kiosks than meets the eye,– and you should know what you’re getting into before using one. So here’s the lowdown.

If It’s Free, You’re Probably the Product

As our CEO, Dr. Pantas Sutardja puts it, “There is no free lunch in this world.” And in the age of surveillance capitalism today – where data has overtaken oil as the world’s most valuable resource – if you’re not paying for a service, then you should probably take a closer look at what the profit motive might be.

The way it works, in this case, is that companies like InCharged and ChargeItSpot will sell these phone charging lockers to businesses, who can then rebrand the lockers however they like. The catch? In order to charge your phone, you’ll need to give the merchant multiple pieces of personal information, like your email address and phone number.

In essence, you’re providing your information in exchange for a free service. So what’s in it for the merchant? It’s pretty simple...your personally identifiable information, otherwise known as PII.

Your Personal Data is Extremely Valuable

You might not think that giving up your phone number is a big deal. But Jen King, director of consumer privacy at Stanford University’s Center for Internet and Society, explains that “in some ways [it’s] almost like your social security number.” Since we rarely (if ever!) change our mobile phone numbers, they become an identifier of sorts. And businesses can then share your number with data brokers “to figure out exactly who you are,” King says.

Any information you give up when using these phone charging stations can be taken advantage of by the business providing the service. Phone numbers are “gold,” according to King, but even email addresses are useful for personalized marketing. For instance, stores may sign you up for a mailing list or loyalty program in hopes of enticing you to come back later.

In fact, these business benefits are exactly what companies like ChargeItSpot tout as features of the phone charging kiosk for retailers. ChargeItSpot’s website explicitly advertises benefits like more time spent in stores, more sales, and better marketing data.

However, for consumers, this should ring an alarm bell about data mining.

How to Protect Yourself

We already know just how insidious data mining can be. It’s one reason why certain social media platforms have proven so profitable: users give up their personal data for free, which allows sites like Facebook to build detailed profiles for targeted advertising. Stealthy methods and privacy violations are commonplace – and apologies after the fact ring hollow.

So what can you do to protect yourself as a consumer?

1. Stay informed and only give up personal data when you feel it’s worth the price.

For some, this may mean waiting until you get home to charge your phone. For others, investing in a portable power bank to charge your phone anytime may be the way to go.

2. Only use charging stations that don’t ask for your personal information.

There actually do exist free phone charging stations that use other methods of verification. For instance, sometimes you can create a temporary username and password to access your charging locker. Other kiosks will simply give you a key to wear around your wrist.

But as long as you know what you’re getting into, you can rest assured that you’re not giving up more than you intended to. At LatticeWork, that’s one of our guiding principles. We strive to give the power back to the consumer in every way possible – to keep you informed, protected, and satisfied for the long term.

Our Commitment to Privacy

Amber, our cutting-edge AI-Powered Smart Storage platform for consumers, is a response to the need for data privacy in the digital storage marketplace today. Just like with the phone charging kiosks, you shouldn’t be forced to sacrifice your privacy for convenience – ever. Big Tech firms do this to us on a daily basis. If you upload photos to Google, check out what we wrote on The Real Cost of “Free” Cloud Storage.

That’s why, for us, transparency and privacy protection are cornerstones of our business model. Remember, you have options when it comes to preserving your digital assets, it’s your data – own it! Click here to learn more about Amber.