You may not be aware of it, but there is currently no legislation that requires website owners and sellers to maintain the privacy of site visitors who shop online or order merchandise from them. Because there are no laws preventing it, sellers are free to collect your name, address, information about the websites and site pages you visit, what types of products or services you buy, what time of day you shop online, the address you ship items to, what shipping service you use, and even how much you typically spend on an online purchase. Sellers may use the information they collect about purchasers by selling it to other companies or sharing it with affiliates. As a result of losing this private information, you will most likely receive more direct-mail marketing, spam e-mails, and/or telemarketer calls.
Many online sites contain programming codes that insert small files―'cookies'―onto your computer's hard drive. Some websites require cookies for visitors to use the site or make purchases; some are used simply to identify site visitors; and some cookies are useful because they keep you from having to re-enter the same personal information every time you visit the site. But other 'invisible' cookies can actually keep track of the various websites you visit, the searches you do, the amount of time you spend on certain sites, and some can even obtain your e-mail address by the transactions you do online. Marketers can use this information to specifically tailor advertisements they send you. These cookies are typically referred to as 'adware'. Another type of invisible cookie, 'spyware', is added to your computer when you go to download certain free programs or spend time on certain websites. These programs are not as harmless as regular cookies; although they can keep track of your online activities, they can also be used by marketers to track what you actually type, including personal information, without you knowing it.
Your web browser has preference settings to allow you to limit, or prevent, sites from installing cookies on your computer. There are also good software or even freeware programs that you can install, and they can warn you about any website that attempts to install cookies, spyware, or adware on your computer. You can choose to accept, refuse, or control these installations using the tools contained in the software. Some anti-virus packages contain these programs, and some ISPs offer them along with their service packages. For ultimate protection, you may want to install a 'firewall' to prevent unwanted intrusions on your computer.
Keeping a grip on personal information related to your activities online is just as important as keeping a grip on financial information you enter when making an online purchase. There are always unscrupulous people and companies watching every move website visitors make, and the information they collect can totally ruin your Internet experiences as well as risk ruining your identity offline. So before you click that Pay Now button to get a great deal, take a few minutes to read the site's privacy policies and be sure you know what you're signing up for.