Previously, we familiarized ourselves with the very broad concept of online security, before talking about a few things that not everyone might realize about Internet security. Given the many layers of complexity making up the current version of the Internet, there are sure to be many more things we have yet to find out about doing things online!
To be fair, that blissful ignorance is just one way that proves just how successful Internet technology has become a mainstream adoption. Without needing to comprehend the infrastructure, without needing to understand how the various technologies behind it work, people are able to use the Internet every day to facilitate and improve all kinds of functions in life.
One such common function is shopping, and if you need to see just how much shopping means to the Internet, you need only see the list of the largest Internet companies. Whether by revenue generated or by value (market capitalization), of the 5 biggest Internet companies (Wikipedia), three are dealing directly in consumer e-commerce: Amazon, JD.com and Alibaba.
While the other two, Google and Facebook, make advertising and data their main business (oh that is so going to make another topic to discuss!), DigitalCommerce360 reports that 76% of Google’s retail search ad spending comes from Google Shopping ads, while BusinessInsider says that Facebook is looking to drive growth in the next few years from shopping and other commerce activities.
It’s clear that shopping is big for the Internet, so much so that many of us do online shopping and buying that we are modelling our tech and devices to gear towards shopping. We’re talking food delivery apps, auction apps, shopping widgets and extensions… banks developing easier consumer payment methods, crypto companies trying to crack the consumer spending and e-commerce hurdles.
On the Internet, the shopping does you
You’re the shopper, so you’re in control right? But maybe not as much as you thought!
Besides all the psychological mind games advertisers and companies do to manipulate your consumerist tendencies, there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes when you shop online. Here’s just some information about yourself that you give away when going online to shop.
1. Where you are
Ever wondered how when you open your search engine and look up an item? Whether or not you want to buy it, the search results seem to be directing you to shops selling the item, as well as advertisements giving the very best offers for the product.
That’s normal, except, all the shops are actually nearby you, and can deliver moments after you order, so you’re even promised the product in your hands on the same day! Everything is even nicely ordered by price and distance.
That’s because search engines and websites can now ask your device for your location. If your device has GPS turned on, it can transmit your location with pinpoint precision, letting search engines know which geographic ads to show to you, and letting shops know which branch can deliver to you. Even if you don’t have GPS turned on, your computer’s unique Internet identifier, known as your IP address, could also contain your location.
The quick fix? Make sure your device’s location/GPS function is switched off when you don’t need it. If you want, you could even enter a default (false) location in your settings to let other sites think you’re in the Bahamas (though that could affect your other search results!).
2. What you like
Every time you go online to make a purchase, your computer remembers. Your search engine remembers. Your favourite online shop remembers.
That’s not all, they even keep track of what you read, watch and do online. Thanks to sophisticated analysis of your search and browsing patterns, it can be quite easy to identify your favourite football team, your favourite food, your favourite music artist, the types of movies you watch.
So, don’t be surprised to find ads being pushed to you selling your team’s football jerseys, coupons for sushi, the latest concert tickets to your pop idol and the latest Netflix action flick subscription offer.
Want a quick fix? Clear your browser cache and cookies after every session so your browser forgets what you’ve done online.
3. How to reach you
Spam emails. It’s been the bane of the Internet since the 1990s. While most commercial email services now filter spam quite easily, and services like Gmail automatically put most promotional mails into a folder away from your main inbox, we all get the occasional spam email landing atop the pile, obscuring important emails and generally being a nuisance.
But spam has now reached out to our instant messengers like WhatsApp or Telegram, or even our Facebook accounts and Instagram. Random messages from strangers and businesses begin to clutter our digital presence.
One way this happens is when your contact details are leaked or even shared (deliberately or otherwise) when you shop online. Emails and phone numbers, typically needed to deliver your purchased items, are often also linked to your WhatsApp or Telegram or Facebook.
Tip? Use a throwaway email or phone when you fill in those shopping details.
Know your rights
As we at FortKnoxster like to remind, privacy is everyone’s right. These days, with binding privacy laws such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), websites now have to inform you whenever they collect your data, and must allow you to amend your permissions and consent to them collecting your data.
They should even provide a way for you to request deletion of any data collected (and a way to withdraw consent for them to collect it if you change your mind!). However, most sites have yet to implement this.
Using privacy-centric tools to shop online like Tor browser can prevent a lot of unwanted data transmission, but you’ll lose the functionality necessary to shop (some cookies are required!).
The next best way for you is to use browser extensions that block ads and cookies, or to use privacy mode that doesn’t let sites track your activities. Making it a habit to clear your browser’s cache and cookies regularly is also a good way to keep your breadcrumbs off the Internet.
So, before you head out to your next Internet shopping spree, do keep an eye on what you do on those apps and websites. At the very least, be aware of what you could be giving away about yourself!
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