Human beings look at the world and see a complex network of interconnected individuals, each with their own autonomy and free will. This perception is a far cry from what credit card companies see. Instead, they view individuals as big bundles of data from which they can profit.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported both MasterCard and VISA are working on plans targeting online ads to consumers based on previous credit card purchases. The idea is you pick up a bag of dog food from the store and charge it to your credit card. When you get home and go online, you start seeing ads for corresponding products and services, like dog toys and dog grooming.
Despite the massive amount of personal data we transmit every day, there are still ways to protect yourself from targeted online ads. Try a few of these tips to avoid the watchful eye of Big Brother.
1. Don't Over-Share
Countless websites and stores ask us to provide phone numbers, email addresses and ZIP codes to help them build a marketing profile. Don't bother sharing your details unless they're essential to your purchase. If the guilt of creating fake information keeps you tossing and turning at night,GuerrillaMail.com provides temporary email addresses that last for just 60 minutes.
2. Cut Down on Cookies
"Cookie" is an important keyword here. These small files are stored on your computer every time you visit a website. They're the reason you don't have to log in to Facebook 10 times a day and why you see ads for a pair of shoes viewed yesterday when you're checking your email today. Luckily, theNetwork Advertising Initiative can help you opt-out of advertising cookies. With just a few simple steps, you're able to block major marketers from access to your browsing habits.
3. Privatize Your Purchases
Don't forget about the main culprits in this personal information panic. All told, VISA and MasterCard process nearly 70 billion transactions each year. All the while, they're collecting and analyzing this massive amount of data. Avoid having your information inspected by opting-out of their analytics programs. MasterCard makes it especially easy; all you have to do is follow this link and opt out of programs in which you don't want to participate. VISA makes it more complicated, but look here for details.
4. Beef Up Your Browser
In response to growing discontent over privacy issues, popular Web browsers like Internet Explorer and Firefox are making it easier to protect personal information. Their latest versions include a private browsing option you can enable to keep your online habits confidential. The browser then won't store such information as cookies, passwords and files you download.
5. Leave No Paper Trail
Paperless statements are good for the environment and also good for your security. Not only does online banking eliminate the amount of personal information you dump in the trash, it also lets you track each purchase instantly. It's a smart security strategy to check your online bank accounts often. This way, you can ensure suspicious items don't slip through the cracks.
6. Get Off the Grid
Credit has practically become our official currency. If you're tired of stressing about credit card security, go old-fashioned. While cash doesn't work online, it doesn't require you share any personal details, either. Gift cards are another good way to avoid using credit. Buying gift cards at less than face value from sites like GiftCardGranny provides instant savings, plus you can use them both in-store and online. Even better, gift cards aren't attached to any of your personal info.
7. Avoid Auto-Fill
Keeping your credit card number, billing address and shipping address on file at Amazon is handy, but it also makes you more vulnerable. Something simple like forgetting to log out at the library can place your personal details in the wrong hands. Though it's tedious and takes extra time, enter your information anew with each order.
8. Ensure You're Secure
It's surprisingly easy to confirm an online merchant has secure checkout. Always look for "https" in the Web address, instead of just "http." That extra "s" shows your connection is encrypted and unauthorized users will have to go to greater measures to get your information. You can learn more about site-specific security by clicking the appropriate box near the address bar in your browser.
Andrea Woroch is a nationally recognized consumer and money-saving expert, having been featured among such top news outlets as Good Morning America, NBC's Today, MSNBC, New York Times, Kiplinger Personal Finance, CNNMoneyand many more. She is available for in-studio, satellite or skype interviews and to write guest posts or articles.
I'm a former 7th grade Science teacher turned stay-at-home mom that lives in Houston, Texas. I am married to my college sweetheart and have a beautiful daughter named Riley, who definitely keeps me on my toes! I am also involved in starting a small business which would both manufacture and sell an invention that I've patented, called Toothpaste 2 Go. I love interacting with my readers and hope to learn as much about you as you learn about me!