Shopping sprees: is our personal data selling cheap?
<hl>Is Our Personal Data on Sale During The Year's Big Shopping Sprees?<hl>
The day after a major shopping spree is always an interesting experience. We wake up to a mixed feeling of accomplishment and regret, doing our best to rationalise a few purchases and not even trying with others. As we go over the receipts and order confirmation emails, we might realise that we spent more than intended, but some crucial information regarding the real price of shopping still eludes us.
You see, global shopping events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday normally make the news with reports of extremely long lines, excited (and sometimes aggressive) shoppers, and data being released demonstrating the extent of our consumer-led global society. This Black Friday, online shoppers in the US spent $7.4 billion, while shoppers in the UK queued at 3AM, and fights broke out among crowds in South Africa. But what rarely makes the news is the important data regarding our, well, data.
Every purchase we make, online or otherwise, adds yet another crumble of data to what is referred to as our digital footprint. During the holiday season, our footprint grows bigger than any pile of shopping bags we could possibly imagine. The personal information we share with shops and third parties (often without our knowledge) remains relevant and active long after the warranty on our new gadget expires and that trendy outfit goes out of style.
It’s no wonder then, that hackers also celebrate Black Friday and Cyber Monday with a spree of their own that includes breaches and leaks. The same way brands launch new products in time for the New Year, hackers launch new attack methods and target huge websites such as Amazon and Target. This year, only days before the biggest retails days of 2019, hackers stole credit card information from Macy’s shoppers.
The reason this keeps happening has less to do with the holiday spirit and more with the flood of information provided by shoppers who are eager to snag the best deals. Does this mean we should all stop shopping? No. There may be other reasons to reconsider making yet another purchase, but concerns regarding your digital footprint shouldn’t be the deciding factor.
Instead, consumers need to learn to be more conscious about their relationship with their online data. There are a couple of strategies we all should take in order to reclaim ownership over our data, meaning we will have more of an understanding of where our information is on the web and helping to protect ourselves from being hacked.
1. Get to know your digital footprint
Understanding how our digital footprint works is half the battle. Keep in mind that every website you visit is added to the trail of data you leave behind and that the cookie consent disclaimer you are so quick to accept really does mean something.
Awareness is important for several reasons: First, it helps us think twice about our online behaviour. This is a minor advantage, because at the end of the day, we shouldn’t refrain from entering a website simply because we reached some imaginary data quota. Second, awareness increases the chances of ongoing data monitoring (which we’ll discuss shortly) and third, the more aware and alert we all are, the more transparent and under control websites will become due to regulatory and market demands.
2. Manage your personal data on an ongoing basis (it’s actually pretty easy)
We should all gather, monitor and control our data distribution all year round, and not just around the holidays or major shopping events. The idea is to check which websites, services and tools enjoy access to our information and make sure that this is justified. As long as we knowingly choose to share specific information with others in exchange for value of any kind — we’re good.
Chances are that as we begin monitoring the issue, we’ll discover services we can’t even remember interacting with that use our data for commercial purposes. Luckily for us, we get to shut them down immediately. We can go from oblivious to concerned to liberated within seconds.
When leaving a physical or online store, we must remember to take — along with our newly purchased items — the personal information that belongs to us. There’s no reason to sell this valuable asset for cheap and risk our safety, no matter how generous the discount is. By monitoring your digital footprint, you can have the best of both worlds and enjoy your recent purchases without worrying about the hidden price tag of personal data.
Originally published in Data Protection Magazine.