"What's your phone number?"
"My phone number?" I exclaimed after our brief chat. Her fingers were hovering over the numbers keypad ready to type it in. Instead of giving away my number, I answered with a joke. "I don't know, you'd have to buy me a drink first." The cashier looked at me in the eyes without a flinch of humor in her face. My wife sighed. I chuckled then said, "sorry, no thank you. No phone number."
"I need your phone number to ring the order." The cashier was persistent. I had my phone out on my hand, so I couldn't say I didn't have a phone. If this was 10 years ago, I wouldn't care and would give my number away to buy the wifi router. But today, in the age of privacy invasion, I'd like to keep this number to myself.
Why does every single business need my phone number anyway? In exchange of personal information a business will offer you a buy one get one free, or a 10% discount. But, those discounted products are never appealing. If you happen not to be satisfied with these benefits, there is no way to get your phone number back.
It's a one way transaction. Give your phone number and it is theirs forever, or until they go bankrupt and sell it to whomever acquires the business. You can never get your phone number off their databases.
Other business are more modern, they couldn't care less about your phone number. Instead, they ask for your email. It's all the same.
My phone number is precious. I have been in the United States for more than a decade, and I have only changed the number once. I use the same email I created when I was 11 years old, that was twenty years ago. These two little endpoints are fairly unique to me. My phone and email can be used to build a profile on me.
Every time I give out this info in a store, they can append the transaction to my purchase history to form a catalog of my behavior. This can be used to target me with more ads, compute a customer score, or anything for that matter.
"But you still gave them your credit card info. Isn't that personal information?" My wife asked me.
The answer to that question is: Yes, I give my credit card information because I can take it back. The credit card is not only personal, it is also sensitive. So sensitive that there are laws around the use of the card information. If I see any transaction I don't approve on my card, I can cancel it. I can call my bank and they will block the card entirely and mail me a new number in an acceptable time frame. Some banks can even generate a one time card number for a single transaction. The number collected by the merchant becomes irrelevant quick enough.
In other words, it's easier to change a credit card than to change a phone number and email. When I try an online service the first time, I don't give out my real email. When I'm asked for a phone number in a store, I give out a fake one. When I try a free trial, you are sure as hell that I will use a fake email. The reason is not that I want to pollute their databases. It's just that once my information is out, I can never take it back.
In this electronic store, the manager had to get involved. He came in and I told him that I wanted to buy the item on the counter. "He doesn't want to give his phone number," the cashier defended herself.
"That's fine," he answered. I watched his hand where he typed the number 0 ten times on the keypad and I was allowed to make my purchase.
The system is designed with unrealistic demands. The more people realize that they don't actually have to give out their information, the more likely all these businesses will update their systems. In this ever connected world, you don't have to be tracked everywhere you go. You don't have to give your email or phone number just to make a purchase. Because when you do, you can never get it back.