When Does Collecting Customer Data Become Intrusive?

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To streamline and improve purchasing, eCommerce businesses have started logging more and more data to provide more personalized customer experiences.

Sure, that can feel very convenient, but where exactly do you draw the line on what is and isn’t appropriate?

Well, here’s a pretty good example:

Let’s say you ordered a set of dishes from a large retailer, and you decided to go pick them up yourself. A few months before, your wife also bought some shampoos and hair softeners from the same retailer.

When you get there to pick up the items you ordered, an employee suddenly asks if your wife enjoyed the hair products she bought, and if you’d like to refill your stock.

That right there is an action that starts bordering on creepiness. Maybe some people wouldn’t mind it, but I personally would feel really taken by surprise – and not in a good way.

A much better approach would be if the retailer would send you an email that mentions new discounts for hair-related products. That offers personalization, and doesn’t feel that intrusive.

Another less specific example of intrusive customer data collection would be when you check out or buy a product on an eCommerce website, and you suddenly start seeing ads for similar items everywhere you go on the Internet.

What Dangers Do You Face Due to Intrusive Customer Data Collection?

Feeling like your privacy is invaded isn’t the only problem. You also have to worry about:

Creepy Ads

Let’s continue where I left off with the ad example. The more data you give eCommerce platforms, the easier you make it for them to target you with personalized ads.

While they can be convenient at times, more often than not they just feel downright creepy and annoying.

Most eCommerce websites have enough personal data to create accurate customer profiles to set up their own ads. Amazon is one of the best examples of that, and they even give other advertisers access to their extensive ad network. A network which, by the way, contains sensitive info like where you live, how healthy you are, and how old your kids are.

Of course, there are claims that some eCommerce platforms sell your data to advertisers too.

Not gonna lie – that is a profitable strategy. Plus, it starts being really believable once you get bombarded with ads that are a bit too “friendly” after visiting an eCommerce website.

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And while there aren’t any clear sources to prove that’s true, there have been reports that Amazon employees have sold customer data. Not to mention Amazon also started giving third parties access to customer demographics.

Data Breaches and Leaks

eCommerce is no stranger to breaches and leaks. Hackers love to target these platforms because they can get away with a lot of customer data.

In fact, research shows that around 90% of login attempts on online retail websites come from cybercriminals.

What’s more, eCommerce website can easily leak customer data – either due to poor configuration, system bugs and glitches, or employee errors. Some examples of that include Amazon cloud backups and Sephora.

What does that mean for you, though?

Well, mostly that hackers will get access to sensitive info like your credit card details, first and last name, email address, physical address, health info, buying preferences, age, gender, login credentials and so on.

They can then use that information to:

  • Clean out your bank accounts and take over your email and social media accounts (or any other account for that matter).
  • Commit identity theft and impersonate you – usually while committing fraud, sharing child pornography, and other illegal activities. The “best” case scenario is your credit will take a huge hit – to the point it takes years to get it back to normal.
  • Use your information in scams and phishing attacks.
  • Add your data to a database which they later sell on the dark web for anywhere between $1 and $450.
  • Hold your data hostage until the eCommerce company agrees to pay a large sum. Even if the money is paid, there’s no guarantee the hackers will give back the data. And if they do, there’s no telling if they made copies.

What Can You Do to Protect Your Privacy?

To be clear – you can’t 100% stop eCommerce websites from logging all your data. Well, unless you stop using the Internet completely.

But there are some things you can do to limit how much retailers can track and abuse your personal data:

1. Use a VPN

VPNs are online services that hide your IP address, and encrypt your traffic. Using a VPN when buying stuff online prevents the website from using your IP address to find out what country and city you live in, who your ISP is, and what your ZIP code is.

Also, by encrypting your traffic, a VPN stops anyone from monitoring your online habits – especially your ISP who can then sell that info to third parties.

2. Use a Privacy-Focused Email

If you don’t want eCommerce platforms logging your real email address, use a disposable one.

Or, better yet, use a more anonymous-ish option like ProtonMail. The service uses end-to-end encryption, doesn’t keep IP logs, and requires no personal info to set up an address.

3. Use Crypto Currencies and Prepaid Debit Cards

Crypto currencies are a great way to enjoy some anonymity when buying stuff online.

However, not all retailers support crypto payments. So, prepaid debits cards are a good alternative since they normally don’t have your name on them, nor do you need to show any ID to buy them.

Want to Learn More About Securing Your Personal Data Online?

Then my personal recommendation is to check out ProPrivacy.

The website has tons of useful tips on how to better protect your data on the web – including a comprehensive privacy guide, tons of VPN reviews, useful advice on how to pick the most secure email provider and web browser, and the latest in privacy news.

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