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Is your online shopping as anonymous as you think? New research reveals shock analysis

By Mitchell Hageman
Tue 30 Nov 2021

With Cyber Monday and Christmas shopping still in full swing, new research has revealed that you may not be as anonymous as you think when you shop online.

In a study conducted by VPN Overview, the research analysed the privacy policies of some of the world's top online shopping sites and ranked them according to how much data they state they collect.

They categorised over 80 sections of data as possibly being able to affect your privacy, listing components such as IP addresses, cookies and financial status to name a few. 

Amazon took the top spot, with over 60 of the data categories being collected by the company. Many of these data categories were related to tracking spending habits and website usage while also taking customers personal and banking information.

The scope of this information ranges from the basics of name, address, and phone number to Alexa voice recordings, friend's emails, and even credit history information from credit bureaus.

AO was the second-worst, collecting 38 pieces of data from their customers, followed by John Lewis, who collected 31. Very came out at the lowest data collection tally, with only nine pieces of information collected.

Although the scope of this data collection is surprising, it is not unexpected considering the promises of large sales and the types of policies that allow companies to collect data for research and customer care purposes.

VPN Overviews' David Janssen says that it is easy to get caught up in the rush of these sales without considering the data a company is collecting, and it always pays to check what you sign up for.

"We know that these savings are tempting, and when you're in the comfort of your own home, it's easy to forget about the dangers of online shopping. Keeping your personal information private is becoming increasingly difficult in the current technological era, but Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals are never a reason to be lax.

"Don't just tick boxes to get to the savings quicker - take your time to read what you're signing up to and whether you are dealing with a reliable retailer that upholds privacy standards."

Although VPN Overview admits that some data collection by companies can work in the customers' favour and some sites require customer data to function, they say that some companies will use all the tools at their disposal to collect data you may not want to be collected.

The company have also released a list of their top tips you can use to keep your data secure:

Disable Cookies

Third-party cookies are used to track your activity between sites, and they can create a profile on who you are and what you like. Disable these third-party cookies and delete the existing ones from your browser to help prevent tracking.

Think twice before you share personal details

Many platforms allow users to create their own personal profile with a profile picture and various other facts about their life. Before you fill this in, always consider whether the website actually needs that information for the service they offer. If you have the option, don't fill out these details and leave them blank instead.

Use a VPN

Some people think using incognito mode will help keep you anonymous, however contrary to popular belief, this doesn't work in most cases. A VPN encrypts your information and hides your IP address, meaning that websites won't be able to read your location and other bits of personal information as easily.

Full results of the research can be found at the VPN Overview website.

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