Don’t Want Big Brother To Know Your Shopping Habits? It’s Tricky But Possible

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Over the last few years, e-commerce has really taken off. The average U.S. customer spends around $1,800 on e-commerce transactions every single year. That shouldn’t really surprise anyone; after all, who doesn’t want to get all their shopping done from the comfort of their home (while wearing pajamas and maybe enjoying an adult beverage)? Little do most people know that this accessibility comes with a price: tech companies are tracking your every move and are trying to use it to their advantage. But if you really want to anonymously shop ’til you drop, there are ways to do it. It’ll just require a bit more effort than you’re used to.

Business Insider estimates that 40% of men between the ages of 18 and 34 prefer to do all of their shopping online. It’s likely that the percentage of women who like to shop via internet browser is even higher. And although many of us are aware that doing anything online comes with its share of risks (just look at any data breach or privacy violation news headline on a daily basis), we’re often a bit too trusting with our personal info when we purchase a product on the interwebs.

Kevin Mitnick spent five years in prison after stealing information from big companies like Nokia and Motorola. Now, his focus has shifted to protecting corporate security. He’s even released a book on how to avoid surveillance, called The Art of Invisibility: The World’s Most Famous Hacker Teaches You How to Be Safe in the Age of Big Brother and Big Data. He recently spoke to CBS News to share some tips on how to dodge detection in the digital age.
Using an incognito window is not enough, explains Mitnick. It may be adequate to circumvent that news paywall, but it’s not going to do a thing to protect your personal data. Your internet service provider will still assign you an IP address, which is fairly easy to track. You’ll essentially have to build an entirely new anonymous profile — and to do that, you’ll have to start from scratch.

Between 2012 and 2015, debit card payments grew from $2.1 trillion to $2.56 trillion, with more than 69.5 billion debit card transactions recorded in 2015. Using your own debit or credit card to shop online defeats the entire purpose of anonymity; even if the website you’re using is secure and you don’t choose the “save my info for next time” option, that data has to go somewhere. To avoid this, you’ll need to purchase a pre-paid gift card (in person, of course) for your online shopping purchases. There’s nothing to track with this kind of card — which is why they’re so popular with IRS scammers.

Things get a little more complicated after that. To truly stay anonymous, you’d need to buy a whole new computer (to avoid anything associated with your own computer’s browsing history), use a hot spot to connect to the internet, and purchase a burner phone to use in registering for email accounts and e-commerce site accounts. All told, one would have to spend at least $400 and a good chunk of time to shop anonymously.

If you do want to go to all that effort, be careful: one wrong move like shipping packages to a home address or mistakenly logging in with an old email account would negate the entire venture. Ultimately, most people may realize what a pain it is to be truly anonymous and simply accept that they’re going to be tracked no matter what. But if staying unseen is truly important to you — and you aren’t willing to give up shopping online entirely — it’s nice to know it’s actually possible.

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