Shopping Personalization: Awesome or Risky?
Shopping Personalization: Awesome or Risky?

by Nicholas Pell

Shopping personalization technology attempts to connect you with the things you want and need based on your past purchases. According to scam expert Steven Weisman of, shopping personalization offers a lot of benefits, but there are also a host of potential security threats -- in part due to a lack of regulation.

"With an insurance company or bank, there are federal laws that require them to keep that data secure," says Weisman.

But that's not true with your favorite big-box retailer or local mom-and-pop store.

"There's nothing like that [regulation] for personalized shopping," says Weisman. "The more places that have your data, the greater the chance of identity theft."

Shopping Personalization and Identity Theft

The specter of identity theft is very real. Even large, tech-sector companies get hacked all the time -- as a glance at recent news would reveal. Still, there are security issues other than just someone running off with your financial information.

"People can get all kinds of information about who you're doing business with," says Weisman.

This is more than just an idle, abstract concern about privacy. With this information, the unscrupulous can engage in "spear phishing." This is when they combine innocuous personal information about you, such as your name, with the businesses you shop at to lure you into giving away more useful personal information, such as account passwords and financial data.

Phishing has been an email threat for years, but consumers are less accustomed to being on their guard when it comes to companies with whom they have a relationship. If you receive an email that appears to be from your favorite retailer -- and you know you've given them your information in the past -- you're more likely to assume the communication is legitimate, even if it's a phishing attack.

Stay Safe With Shopping Personalization Technology

So what should people who want to take advantage of shopping personalization look out for? First, be wary of anyone asking for personal information they don't need to know.

"No one needs to know your mother's maiden name," says Weisman, referencing a common security question.

This also applies to your social security number, bank accounts or anything outside the purview of your dealings with the company. "We're in a new world," says Weisman, and there are few standards to regulate it.

In the event that someone compromises or attempts to compromise your personal information, contact the Federal Trade Commission, as they have jurisdiction in these matters.

Would Weisman use shopping personalization?

"Let's say I'm a fisherman and I get questions about rods and reels," says Weisman. "If the questions relate to what I buy, fine."

But there's a gray area when demographic questions appear.

"When they want to start knowing who I am, I get wary," says Weisman. "Even asking my age raises a red flag."

It's not the information per se that concerns him; it's the slippery slope.

"It starts me down a road of giving out too much information, and that can lead to identity theft," says Weisman.

Bottom line: Keep your personal information personal, but don't be afraid to let people know where you shop -- and, as always, be vigilant.

Data Privacy & Security "Shopping Personalization: Awesome or Risky?"