How to Cover Your Shopping Footprints

By Francis Chu  |  Posted 2001-01-01

Shopping on the Internet is like signing up for a supermarket saver card or getting that extra 10 percent discount when you sign up for a retail stores credit card. You get some immediate savings, but you are also involuntarily subscribing to junk mail.

To this day, I still receive junk mail from the company that tempted me back in college with its so-called 1-cent CD mail-order club. Its a fact of life, whether we shop online or in stores, that merchants will use customer information to the fullest extent. But instead of complaining about how our privacy is violated by e-tailers, lets do something to minimize the personal footprints we leave behind on the Web.

Those of us concerned about privacy on the Internet should scrutinize the privacy policies of the sites we visit. One thing to check for is whether a site has policy certification validating its claim that it will not sell or use personal information without permission., for example, is certified by Truste, a nonprofit organization that recognizes sites protecting user information.

E-shoppers should check the "preferences" settings when they open an account at an online store and turn off e-mail solicitations. Sites like Amazon. com, for example, send e-mail notifications of special offers and promotions that are enabled by default. Often, newly registered shoppers are unaware of this default feature.

Its good to read the disclaimers before installing any free software from the Web to make sure the company providing that software doesnt obtain personal information or monitor your browser habits when you use it.

The highly useful and popular Web search engine offered a free tool bar plug-in last month, enabling those with Internet Explorer Web browsers to perform inquiries quickly using Googles search engine from any Web site. However, the advanced functions of the tool bar allow Google to obtain information about your Web surfing interests. Google did a great service to the Web community by providing a detailed disclaimer warning users of the privacy issues involved before the plug-in is installed, and its advanced features are disabled by default.

Although taking precautions doesnt change the fact that privacy is not ensured on the Web, users can be more aware and selective of whom to trust.

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