Some of Your Favorite Online Stores Could Be Spying on You—Here’s How

This is bad news for your online shopping addiction.

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These 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. Aside from your laptop and phone, here are other household items that could be watching you.

“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.” (Check out these secret ways the government can spy on you.)

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. By the way, here are the signs your technology is spying on you.

If you’re paranoid about your digital privacy, this might put a damper on your online shopping addiction. Just make sure you learn the red flags someone may be spying on your computer before you go on your online shopping spree. And learn about your personal security–your “private” browser may not be so private. 

[Source: Engadget]

Brooke Nelson
Brooke Nelson is a researcher at PBS FRONTLINE in Boston, Massachusetts, and writes regularly about travel, health, and culture news for Reader’s Digest. Previously she was a staff writer at Reader's Digest. Her articles have also appeared on MSN, Business Insider, and Yahoo Finance, among other sites. She earned a BA in international relations from Hendrix College. Follow her on Twitter @BrookeTNelson.