Privacy Protection for Online Shoppers

Introduction

The Internet evolved as a means of communication and has encroached and impacted marketing significantly. Online shoppers are consumers who buy goods and services over the Internet. This process evades the traditional routine task of buying products and services at shopping centers. During the process, consumers and online companies exchange information. Frequently, firms use this data to offer personalized products and services to satisfy and retain customers.

Online shopping has enormous advantages in that it is convenient as it operates 24 hours a day. It provides detailed information and reviews of products and services and reduces the costs of doing business through reduced transaction costs and efficient payment methods.

However, online shopping comes with several setbacks, including fraud and security concerns, lack of trust, transparency, and privacy. This report is written to enlighten online shoppers on how to protect their privacy. It considers and represents the writer’s experiences, perspectives, ideas, and attitudes toward online shopping. Evidence-based arguments, allegations, and opinions are presented. A lot of time and effort is dedicated to the discussion of what to do, how to do it, and why the consumers need privacy protection during online engagements.

Procedure

The information contained in the report is a presentation of individual experiences, outlook, opinions, and attitudes. It is supplemented by facts searched, gathered, and selected from appropriate journals and websites. The writer searched and chose suitable scholarly articles from academic databases and websites as sources of information. Besides, visual aid is used to substantiate key arguments.

Results

The general trend one observes when analyzing literature about the consumer-Internet interaction and especially online shopping is that of an unregulated interchange of information. The consumers depend on reflective measures to adjust to the new situation of incomplete privacy and security. Often, the effortlessness and expediency of sharing information online make customers share personal information without regard to the implications of this information exchange (Walker, 2016).

Daily, consumers are intermingling on various online platforms using various devices. During the interaction, users share individual information about their locality, health data, relationships, likings, and behaviors with third parties on the other extreme. This “socially transmitted data” reveals the user’s location, making him or her vulnerable to cybercrime (Walker, 2016, p. 145).

Challenges of disclosing personal information on the Internet.
Figure 1: Challenges of disclosing personal information on the Internet.

Discussion

Presently, the methods for encouraging privacy entail controlling personal information and promoting transparency and trust. Nevertheless, consumers are often overloaded with digital information, which chokes their ability to scrutinize the trustworthiness of their online clients. Additionally, there are a few recommendations and warnings intended to assist online consumers to have safe shopping practices. These warnings are deliberated on below.

Firstly, shoppers are advised to use secure web sites that employ encryption technology to handle data. Encryption ensures that only valid recipients access your personal information. In this way, computer hackers are sidestepped. A secure web site harbors an https:// or closed padlocks in its address bar (Walker, 2016). This feature assures you that you are conveying your data via safe channels and is very valuable in cases where the retailer stores the data in encoded form.

It is equally important for one to verify the website and its address to make sure one is dealing with a legitimate website. Markedly showy websites or sites with messages such as “Now or Never”, “It’s free”, “No mail please”, or “Get rich quick” should be eyed cautiously as the owner may be a fraudster who schemes to prey on his or her clients (Walker, 2016, p. 147). Consumers are similarly advised to do business with companies they are familiar with.

One should do thorough research on the website for a new company before engaging it in any transaction. It is important to verify the physical address, contacts, terms of business, customer service, and the existence of that company in consumer protection agencies to find out if it is genuine. Also, consumers are advised not to place orders involving huge amounts of money to online companies that they know little about. In the case of a new company, it is recommended that the shopper does not implement payments before goods and services are delivered.

Online companies offer information on how they process orders and handle customers’ information on their ‘privacy policy’ statements. Thus, an online shopper must read these privacy and security guidelines as they contain information on what data the website gathers. The guidelines also reveal whether the information is shared with other parties and whether the privacy statement is effective. According to King (2011), companies that are “affiliates of a seal-of-approval program”, an agency that promotes online privacy through BBBonline, are endorsed as they guarantee some protection of customer’s privacy (p. 193).

Online consumers should utilize real credit cards and not ATMs or debit cards. King (2011) validates a credit card because it is safe and “protected under the federal Fair Credit Billing Act” so that in the event of identity card theft, the bearer can press charges (p. 194). She cites another bylaw, the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act that prohibits online merchants from divulging customers’ financial account numbers to third parties for commercial purposes (King, 2011).

Such a rule is essential since history is full of cases where breaches of privacy resulted in harm to consumers. They include reports of financial loss, murder, tracking, negative publicity, sale of credit card numbers, and personal profiles online. For example, consumer reports discovered that “40 percent of insurance companies in the USA used to share confidential medical data to lenders, employers, or vendors without consumer consent” (Walker, 2016, p. 148). Shopping by check or using a money transfer service such as PayPal predisposes customers to fraud and is only suitable while dealing with people one knows well.

While placing an order, consumers are advised to disclose information that is only relevant to the order processing. A consumer should not share data on his social security number, leisure, lifestyle, or annual income. The consumer is advised to shun a company that demands the provision of what he or she considers sensitive information. Purchases should not be made using a public Wi-Fi connection since this presents some risks. On October 15, 1999, a woman christened Amy Boyer was stalked and murdered (King, 2011). Allegedly, the killer had purchased Amy’s social security number from an online company and used it to track her via the Internet.

Many online shopping sites usually require one to log in before accessing them. Therefore, customers enroll in these sites by giving us a username and a password. The username and password should be upgraded regularly and not be disclosed to another person. These measures help to minimize cases of hacking.

Online shoppers should be wary of identity thieves who send numerous emails alerting them to “amend the account details for their banks, credit cards, electronic payment service, or common shopping spots” (King, 2011, p. 195). Such emails should be ignored.

The online shopper should critically analyze the information provided on the site to ascertain the credibility of the claims, prices, contacts, and merchants. Fraudulent sites usually contain tempting deals. The shopper should pay attention to freight facts such as shipping charges, duration, insurance, and the person liable for shipping charges. He should understand the vendor’s warranty and return guidelines. Most products are covered by a warranty. Return policies may involve cash refunds in which case a restocking fee may be charged or no cash refunds, but exchange for other items.

Customers are advised to buy from home country vendors and not from foreign companies. This strategy makes it easier to deal with problems that are likely to ensure e-commerce. It not only reduces costs such as those incurred in foreign exchange, shipping, or overseas litigation processes, but it also reduces delays in the delivery of goods.

Online consumers should embrace the “latest technologies in response to tracking, profiling, and targeting by the behavioral advertising industry” (Walker, 2016, p. 149). These technologies include ad-blocking tools such as Adblock Plus and Noscript, and anti-tracking tools such as Ghostery for web browsers (Walker, 2016). Such tools help to protect the consumer from unnecessary ads and conceal the consumer’s location while using the Internet and promote privacy.

Conclusion

The goal of the report was to inform the online shoppers on the various ways their private information may be tampered with and what they should do to protect their privacy. As has been noted, there are numerous ways in which a consumer might be lured to share personal information online and an equal possibility for the abuse of this information by third parties. Luckily, the online shopper has several instruments that he or she can use to protect him or herself, though not fully. Because of the sensitivity of personal information, it is undeniable that the extent of disclosure of this information required by online merchants affects online shopping decisions.

References

King, N.J. (2011). Why Privacy Discussions about Pervasive Online Customer Profiling should Focus on the Expanding Roles of Third-Parties. International Journal of Private Law 4(2), 193-195.

Walker, K.L. (2016). Surrendering Information Through the Looking Glass: Transparency, Trust, and Protection. Journal of Public Policy & Marketing: Business Source Complete, 35(1), 144-158.