Hey, That's My Information!

Winter 2002 CSANews Issue 45  |  Posted date : Apr 12, 2007.Back to list

Well...it's that time of year again. Get your credit cards ready for another season of gift buying (my shirt size is 16 x 33). Last year, I wrote about places to shop. This year, with Canadians still a little wary about online shopping, I would like to offer some cautionary advice when surfing for gifts. Some of these suggestions go beyond the financial purchase itself, to the actual interaction with certain sites.

The same premise applies to an online purchase as to the purchase of a used car.

Let the Buyer Beware!!!

Don't misinterpret my words. The world isn't all bad... but as the saying goes, "One Bad Apple..."

Let's put this into perspective. How many of your acquaintances or even friends (even your best ones) have you brought into your inner circle by divulging your net worth, your credit card numbers, social security number or, for that matter, your age? Be honest...it doesn't happen.

Now, here you are at your computer looking at a site from which you'd like to purchase your grandson a video game, a cool toy or some underwear (yucckkkk...that's your grandson speaking). The reality is that you don't have any idea who is on the other side of the screen, yet every day you give away information, whether you know it or not, that you would never dream of telling your parents or best friends.

A simple precautionary rule is to treat the online vendors like retail stores. I'm a pretty avid shopper, but I have some baseline requirements before I make a purchase. The store must have a simple return policy...money back...not store credit. I prefer that the store has a customer service department, which theoretically means that they offer some modicum of customer service. I always purchase brand-name products, as the manufacturer's warranty and ongoing service are very important to me. And lastly, I make sure that they don't put me on their mailing list (I hate that).

So how do you determine if you should make a purchase with an online vendor? Before offering any information, either personal or financial, look around the site for a "Privacy" link. Usually it's on the bottom of the home page (at least), and good sites will have a link on every page. Click on the link and read the policy carefully.

This is very important, as you are about to give out personal information about yourself. The Web site owners have an obligation to inform you how it will be used. Issues that need to be addressed by any reasonable privacy policy include:

Credit Card Data
What are they going to do with your credit card information and how do they keep it safe?

Personal Information
Are they going to keep "personally identifiable information" to themselves or sell it to third parties?

Sharing of Information
Does the Web site share your information with other sites. Do the third-party advertisers on the Web site also have access to your personal information, and how will they use your information? At the very least, there should be links to third-party sites so that you can also review their privacy policies.

Cookies
Your browser contains a feature called "cookies," which store small amounts of data about your visit to a Web site. How do they use cookies?

Your E-mail Address
It's very important to totally understand what they plan to do with your e-mail address. You don't want to get spammed (advertising e-mail) to death. Under what conditions will you receive mailings ?

Changing Personal Information
How do you erase your private data or remove yourself from mailing lists?

Once you fully understand a privacy policy, you can make an intelligent decision as to whether or not you wish to make a purchase on this site.

Now that you're ready, buy your grandson that video game...just rethink the underwear. Happy holidays, and have a safe shopping experience.