Shopping under surveillance: How retailers track you & how to be invisible

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If you have a pulse and an internet connection, companies want all the details they can get on what you’re willing to buy — and it’s getting harder to tell where they’re getting all that info.

Retailers can now track what customers purchase to influence their buying patterns. Loyalty programs collect data on your purchases, frequency and preferences — in exchange for deals. 

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Mobile apps take it a step further. If location tracking is enabled, retailers know when you’re in-store — those coupon notifications aren’t a coincidence. 

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shopping amazon

Amazon site for shopping (Fox News)

Wi-Fi and Bluetooth beacons map where you go. Ever connect to free Wi-Fi in a store? That’s the trade-off. Bluetooth beacons work similarly by pinging your phone’s Bluetooth to document your path within the store.

Point-of-sale systems document purchase histories and often connect them to an email or phone number if provided. Surveillance cameras aren’t just to catch thieves. Some retailers use AI to analyze your shopping behavior and habits.

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Take back your (purchasing) power

Tracking is unavoidable, but there are ways to protect your privacy better. Use these tips to feel less watched:

  • Uninstall retail apps from your phone. If you can’t part with them, disable location permissions.
  • Limit loyalty cards. The fewer you sign up for, the better for your privacy. Most cashiers are willing to let me use theirs. Just be polite!
  • Switch off Bluetooth. This way, you’re not tracked by beacons in stores.
  • Know your rights. If you use a retailer’s website or app, there’s usually a section where you can opt out of specific data collection or sharing methods.
  • Turn off your location history in Google. Under Settings, click Privacy and Security, then Site Settings. Tap Location and click Don’t allow sites to see your location. Be sure to delete any sites that were saved here in the past.
  • Browse in Incognito mode. This keeps your website history from being stored and reported to ad networks.
  • Delete old accounts: JustDelete.me provides direct links to delete your accounts for many online services. You can also see how companies view and handle user data.
  • Use a VPN. This hides your IP address from retailers and works on your phone, too! My pick is ExpressVPN.

And here you thought all you had to worry about was finding a good parking spot. Oh, btw, if you always lose your car, your maps app can keep track of where you parked.

Online shopping

Woman shops online (Cyberguy.com)

Keep your tech-know going 

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A senior man shops at a supermarket

A senior man shops at a supermarket during reserved shopping hours for elderly people in Miami Beach, on March 21, 2020.  ((Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images))

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