As the online shopping season ramps up in many parts of the world, these ten top tips will help you maintain your privacy and safety so you can shop with confidence.
Use an ad blocker – Advertisements are not only tracking your every movement and collecting enough information on your habits to make the FBI blush, but they are also a major source of malicious links and deceptive content on the internet. Not only is your browsing safer, but also faster and uses less bandwidth. Two of our favorites are uBlock Origin and Ghostery.
Use private browsing or incognito mode – To prevent your shopping habits and interests from following you around from site to site (and potentially revealing what gifts you might be purchasing to others using your device, bonus!), you should enable private browsing (Firefox) or incognito mode (Chrome). This will block tracking cookies and help the internet forget your travels as the waves wash away your footprints in the sand.
Make your browser “privacy smart” – The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) provides a browser extension called Privacy Badger designed to automatically make all the right choices around browsing whilst maintaining our privacy and blocking invisible trackers.
Avoid using one account on multiple services – When logging into an e-commerce site it is often tempting to use the “Sign in with Facebook” or “Sign in with Google” button. While it takes a few more minutes to create a new login, it will provide more privacy as you are not sharing all of the sites you shop at with these tech giants.
Use guest login when available – In addition to letting you use an account from other websites, many have an option to use a guest login rather than creating a new account. This is a great option if you don’t expect to need technical support or to do business on a recurring basis. Fewer passwords, fewer personal details, fewer problems if they get hacked.
Don’t save card details – Many e-commerce sites will default to storing your credit card information in your profile for your “convenience” (or their hope you’ll shop there again). They can’t lose what they don’t have, so tell them not to store your credit card unless it is absolutely necessary.
Use temporary card numbers – Many financial institutions now offer temporary or one-time use credit card numbers. You can open the app on your phone or in your browser and get a single-use disposable credit card number preventing card fraud and tracking when merchants share card processors. Sometimes you’re even able to specify a card limit per temporary number to further protect your account.
Use credit, not debit – All of us need to be wary of overspending during the holidays, but it is best to leave the debit card at home. Credit cards offer significantly more protection against online fraud, and you are in the power position in a dispute. You can simply not pay your bill while disputing the charge, rather than having criminals directly drain your bank account of your hard-earned cash.
Beware of direct messages via social media/chat apps – With modern generative AI technology it is almost trivial to create an entire fake online store and lure people to share their personal information and payment data with you. It’s safest to shop at established sites or those personally recommended to you by friends and family. Many unsolicited messages lead to data collection or theft.
Don’t click deals in email that look too good to be true or are from businesses you don’t have accounts from – these could be phishing emails hoping to bait you into clicking links to bogus, malicious web sites.