279photo-Studio/shutterstockThese days, you don’t even need to leave your bed to benefit from some retail therapy. In one fell swoop—or should we say click?—you can knock out Christmas shopping, birthday presents, and even the occasional splurge for yourself. And you’re not alone in your obsession, either; 96 percent of Americans have bought something online at least once, according to BigCommerce.
But before you pull up your web browser with credit card in hand again, there’s something you should know (aside from the one mistake you need to stop making when online shopping). More than 400 of the world’s most popular websites are reportedly spying on you, according to recent research from Princeton.
The Princeton study reviewed seven of the most popular “session replay” companies and recorded each retail sites that employ them. By using what is called “session replay scripts” from these third-party companies, these websites can track your every move, including mouse moves, clicks, and keystrokes. And scarier still, no one quite knows what happens to the data once it reaches these sites’ hands. By the way, hotels could be spying on you, too.
“Collection of page content by third-party replay scripts may cause sensitive information, such as medical conditions, credit card details, and other personal information displayed on a page, to leak to the third-party as part of the recording,” Steven Englehardt, a Ph.D. candidate at Princeton University, wrote. “This may expose users to identity theft, online scams, and other unwanted behavior.”
Some of the retail sites that are said to monitor their visitors’ actions include Costco, Gap.com, Crate and Barrel, Old Navy, Toys R Us, Fandango, Adidas, Boots, Neiman Marcus, Nintendo, Nest, the Disney Store, and Petco. While Bonobos and Walgreens made the original list, they promised to remove their session-replay scripts after the research was published.
If you’re paranoid about your digital privacy, this might put a damper on your online shopping addiction. The silver lining? You can finally save big when you shop online—by not logging in at all.