The Real Cost of Cyber Monday Deals? Your Online Privacy

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There's no such thing as a free lunch, or a string-free deal for that matter. Yes, you’re going to have to pay for all those Cyber Monday savings. The cost? A piece of your online privacy.

To keep tabs of your online-shopping footprint, you need to follow the cookies. The data collected by stores isn’t limited to your credit card information and shopping history at checkout. A site like Amazon might track your search on their site, but cookies potentially allow them to see where else you shop, what other sites you visit, and even what you buy elsewhere.  All of that information culled together gives them a portrait of more than just your buying habits — helping them to estimate everything from age and gender to marital status and income.

In general, cookies are useful: Without them, you wouldn't have saved passwords and usernames for faster sign-in. Sometimes they keep tabs on your frequent shopping for a particular product, yielding customized deals on larger sites like Amazon.

The problem arises when you are caught unaware. That's when cookies can become creepy — popping up ads for things that you didn't even search for (but maybe clicked on in at some point?). Amazon might have a few on your browser, but Facebook, Google, and your fantasy football lineup advice page all probably have them, too. A recent study showed 60 percent or more of the sites you visit tack on cookies from third parties.

So what should you do? Go to your History tab and clear out your cookies often, for one. Before and after you do things like shopping, clearing cookies keeps you from experiencing strategic price changes in goods and services you want to purchase. That’s why, for instance, you should use an incognito browser to buy airline tickets: Prices go up when you search a route regularly.

If you’re so concerned by this insight that you’d consider avoiding online shopping, relax. For better or worse, the majority of retailer data collection isn’t different from what they’re able to collect during physical shopping trips. Their profile is likely just as complete, if lacking information about your YouTube binge of Planet Earth clips.

So get back to those Cyber Monday deals. Big Brother probably knows everything there is to know about you already.