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    Wall Street Journal: Stores Give Discounts; Just Hand Over Personal Data

    The Wall Street Journal reports on retailers giving discounts to customers who hand over personal data and what that means for consumer privacy:

    With retailers’ rewards programs getting increasingly sophisticated, preferred customers can get discounts: points they can turn into store credit, coupons printed on sales receipts, the opportunity to buy merchandise before the general public—even secret password and birthday sales. […]

    What began as a barcode fob for grocery store coupons in the 1990s has evolved into a high-tech way for retailers to track the every move of their biggest, most-frequent spenders. […] About three out of four Americans belong to a retail loyalty card program, according to ACI Worldwide, which handles electronics payment for hundreds of retailers and financial institutions. […]

    To get discounts, shoppers must hand over personal data. Often, the more details given, the more discounts received, which brings up the issue of data privacy and the corresponding pitfalls. […]

    In order to receive their emails, many retailers also will require a name and, in some cases a ZIP code or a date of birth. Some take it a step further and ask users to set up an online account that requires a login, allowing a retailer to track how often they visit the site, as well as what items draw their attention. […]

    To sign up for a retailer’s loyalty program usually requires name, mailing address and telephone number. These programs assign shoppers a number, often a barcode or a phone number, essentially applying a digital tracking number to each customer. […] Now, retailers are devising ways to track barcode holders outside the store.

    Here are some tips from the Wall Street Journal concerning the shopper rewards programs and personal privacy:

    Privacy concerns: Each rewards program has a statement outlining a retailer’s privacy policies. Read it carefully to know what information is being collected, where your information will be used and what other companies it may be given to without your knowledge.

    To unsubscribe: Getting off a retailer’s email list is usually pretty easy. Find an email from the retailer in question, scroll to the bottom and look for a link that says “Unsubscribe,” often in tiny print. If you have an account on a retailer’s website, login and search for the unsubscribe option in your account settings.

    Opting out entirely: Opening a loyalty card is much easier than closing one. To opt out, shoppers often need to take their card to a store to speak to an associate or send a written request to the company directly to close an account. Ask the retailer to discontinue use of your information entirely, including third-party distribution.

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