Blog | Online shopping: Is your personal data on the line?

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The merriest season of all is upon us and one of its many gifts is the dizzying number of deals bestowed upon us by various online stores. And who can blame them for doing so? The timing is right, and consumer appetite is insatiable.

Online shoppers continue to multiply in number every year, presenting no signs of stalling in the near future. In fact, by 2023, online retail in Southeast Asia is expected to balloon to more than $53 billion from $19 billion in 2018, and will account for 6.5% of all retail sales in the region, according to a Forrester report.

Key drivers of this growth include better-priced deals, varied offerings, convenience, speed of transaction, and immediate user feedback that physical stores usually fail to offer. To humor the consumers’ fondness of online shopping, several online marketplaces and stores around the globe have caught up on the trend of holding an annual series of monthly steep sale events leading up to the holiday season. Records from marketplaces in the country usually report tens of millions of items sold on the day of each of these monthly shopping craze sales that start in September.

Christmas shopping online thus seems to be the best option especially for those whose last two months of the year are jam-packed with a ridiculously non-stop schedule of work and partying. Add to this the horrendous Metro Manila traffic situation, and that’s reason enough to want to just do as many things as possible remotely. Nonetheless, a good number of patrons still have reservations about online shopping and choose to shop in physical stores due to concerns over data security, in addition to purchase quality. This, together with incidents of data breaches filling the news, thereby warrants the question: Could online shopping be luring us down a rabbit hole we can’t get out of?

Truth is, online stores can pose a trap just as much as physical stores do. The only difference is that with online shopping, you can visit hundreds of stores in the comfort of your own bed, hot cocoa in hand, in your underpants. Both stores, however, would ideally implement the necessary security measures, though different types, to fend off threats and vulnerabilities. If data security is what makes you think twice about joining the e-commerce bandwagon, here are some basic facts that might help you make a less stressful decision to go ahead and get that bag you always wanted, online.

Firstly, online retailers worldwide that accept credit card as a mode of payment are met with a set of requirements by the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS), the global card industry security standard that protects the storage of payment information and other personal data of consumers. This reduces the risk of theft or loss of information while your records are handed to a retailer.

Additionally, reputable stores install digital counterparts of a physical store’s CCTV cameras, alarm systems, and security locks, which come in the form of a tight and comprehensive cybersecurity plan that offers a wide array of solutions for any web security issue that may arise. For peace of mind, check the shopping site for certification badges that denote security measures and compliance in place.

While these may be difficult to guarantee, the easiest way to ensure your privacy in their care is to find the link to the online store’s privacy policy, which is often found at the bottom of every webpage. Such privacy statements provide useful information on what personal information they gather, how and when it is used, and the assurance of its protection. This page also provides information on how you can address them should you have any questions or concerns.

Still, the first and most essential step in achieving data security is finding a legitimate online store. Ensure that the site you’re making transactions with was recommended to you or is widely recognized as a credible retail store.

Online merchants of such reputation are aware of the potential cyber risks that may jeopardize their business and are therefore already going to extreme lengths to strengthen their security to protect your personal records. They acknowledge that their business is founded on consumer trust, thus make it their obligation to nurture this trust and protect consumer data.

This, of course, goes without saying that user discretion on which personal details to give plays an important role in the security of data. Sensitive information such as credit card numbers, one-time passwords (OTP), financial information, online passwords, and PINs should remain confidential and must never be shared online. Do note that credible retail stores do not need to collect all that information before you can shop.

When checking out with your online shopping cart, make sure that you read the fine print (e.g. terms and conditions) before you accept. At the end of the day, as long as you’re browsing through a legitimate online store, the security of your personal data should be the last of your concerns.

With the long list of Christmas shopping items you have to strike off, whether you wish to physically examine the products prior to purchase or prefer the convenience of waiting by your doorsteps, bear in mind that both physical and online stores have their own advantages, but nonetheless may similarly propose threats other than security. These include scams, hidden charges, unforeseen product defects, and overpricing, which, in most cases, might be bigger concerns than data security.

The author is the director for marketing and digital innovations at IP Converge Data Services Inc.

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