As you are shopping online this holiday season, you may notice display ads popping up for items that you recently searched for on other sites.

That feeling of being followed around the web by ads is real — it’s a process called re-targeting. Through online behavioral advertising (OBA), companies can collect data about your browsing behavior in order to show you more personalized and relevant ads. Some find this helpful, while others may find it a bit creepy.

But ad re-targeting is just one thing to keep in mind regarding privacy when shopping online. Here are a few tips to consider.

1. Know your options regarding retargeted ads

How you feel about being tracked and re-targeted with ads depends on your feelings about online privacy. Privacy is personal — everyone has their own idea of what privacy means to them. Recent TRUSTe research reveals that 80% were aware of being tracked in some way while online, and 52% did not like it. 35% even stopped doing business with a merchant because of privacy concerns. Check out the data in an infographic here.

You may or may not welcome re-targeted ads with open arms, but as a consumer, you are in full control. You have a variety of options when it comes to privacy. 82% of those surveyed managed their online privacy by manually deleting cookies, 68% used ad/tracker blockers, and 64% opted out of tracking using website controls such as AdChoices. If you see a little blue icon in the top right corner of a display ad, you can click it and follow the instructions to opt-out of ad targeting.

2. Consider Virtual Credit Card Numbers

Many banks and credit card companies allow consumers to create temporary credit card numbers. These “virtual” numbers are typically valid only for a limited period of time or number of transactions, and allow you to avoid exposing your sensitive financial account information online.

3. Create Strong Passwords

Many of the sites or apps you use for online shopping will require you to register to complete an order or even begin the shopping experience. Since these shopping accounts are often tied directly to your financial information, it’s especially important that you use strong passwords when registering. Strong passwords are lengthy, consist of letters and numbers, upper and lower cases, and include a special character such as an exclamation point or ampersand.

4. Look for Reputable Trustmarks

Trustmarks come in various shapes, sizes, and colors and signify a variety of things about the website displaying them. TRUSTe’s green privacy seal, for example, demonstrates that a website meets our company’s privacy standards and is committed to providing consumers with transparency, accountability, and choice around their personal data.

Most reputable trustmarks are clickable, allowing you to verify their authenticity by displaying a validation page. If you cannot click on a trustmark, or if the validation page that loads is not hosted by the trustmark provider, consider it fraudulent and contact the trustmark provider directly.

5. Pay Attention to Registration Pages

When registering for an account on a shopping site or completing the checkout process, look closely to make sure that you are not unknowingly granting permission for unwanted marketing or information-sharing activities. Review pre-checked boxes to understand what the company plans to do with your information. If you don’t agree, make sure to un-check the boxes before checking out. This can prevent you from receiving unwanted marketing emails or direct mail solicitations.

With these tips, you can ensure a safe and empowering online shopping experience this holiday season.


Rupa Lang is an online marketing manager at TRUSTe.

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