Online Shopping Tips: E-Commerce and You (Lesson -4 Read the Web Site’s Privacy and Security Policies)

Every reputable e-commerce Web site offers information about how it processes your order. It is usually listed in the section entitled “Privacy Policy.” You can find out if the merchant intends to share your information with a third party or affiliate company. Do they require these companies to refrain from marketing to their customers? If not, you can expect to receive “spam” (unsolicited e-mail) and even mail or phone solicitations from these companies.

You can also learn what type of information is gathered by the Web site, and how it is — or is not — shared with others. The online merchant’s data security practices are also often explained in the Privacy Policy, or perhaps a separate Security Policy.

Look for online merchants who are members of a seal-of-approval program that sets voluntary guidelines for privacy-related practices, such as TRUSTe (, Verisign (, or BBBonline (

However, be aware that a strong privacy policy and membership in a Web-seal program don’t guarantee that the Web merchant will protect your privacy for all time. Policies can change. The company can file for bankruptcy and sell its customer data base. The Web merchant might be purchased by another company with a weaker privacy policy. And the company’s data can be subpoenaed for law enforcement investigations or civil cases. You have little control over the use of your customer data in such matters.

Given all of these uncertainties, you will want to think about the sensitivity of the data that is being compiled about you when you shop online. We cannot prescribe the best approach to take. Each consumer has a different interpretation of what is considered “sensitive.”

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