Skeptical Shopper: E-Coupons May Track Spending Habits

Online coupons, although convenient, come with privacy risks, such as letting retailers track your shopping habits.

The advent of online coupons has made shopping and saving that much easier. In an earlier era, people spent their Sunday mornings clipping coupons out of the newspaper. Now, you can download coupons from dedicated sites like Coupons.com or Ebates.com, or even social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. But this convenience carries certain privacy risks: Some companies track consumer spending habits based on the coupons those consumers use.

Last April, The New York Times reported on how a company called RevTrax, which manages online coupons for retailers, was tracking consumer spending habits through these online coupons. RevTrax clients include stores like Filene's Basement, Lord & Taylor, and Micro Center; restaurants like Ruby Tuesday; and a number of marketing agencies representing multiple clients.

Collecting Your Data

So what does all of this mean for consumers? Suppose that you sign into Ebates.com via Facebook Connect and obtain a coupon for Ruby Tuesday. You take in that coupon, it gets scanned, and you enjoy your discounted dinner. How­ever, you might choke on your cheesecake if you realized how much information the restaurant has collected about you.

Once the restaurant scans your coupon's barcode, RevTrax can track it back not only to the search terms used in Ebates.com to find that coupon but to the Facebook ID, including your first and last name, that was used to log into the site. Now the company has access to your search habits and your social networking habits. It also has access to your location, your gender, and your interests.

Note that RevTrax simply collects all this data; where the data goes and how it is used is up to the retailer employing RevTrax's service. If Ruby Tuesday wants to send a "thank you" message to your e-mail ad­­dress and offer additional deals, the restaurant can now do so thanks to its access to your information.

What's most disturbing is that RevTrax is completely invisible; you have no way of knowing whether a coupon is on RevTrax's platform or not.

And RevTrax isn't the only company out there that is tracking customers' spending habits. This spring, Skeptical Shopper looked at a company called Rap­Leaf that used Facebook and Twitter to create targeted ad­­ campaigns for banks and other financial institutions.

(The companies using Rev­Trax's services insist that they use the data simply to reach their customers better.)

Protect Your Privacy

Though most of the data collected when you use a coupon may be harmless, you can never be too sure. I recommend adjusting the privacy settings on your Facebook profile. Also, don't use Facebook Connect to log into e-coupon sites.

ReclaimPrivacy.org has a neat tool that will scan your profile and account settings. For each area of your account, Re­­claimPrivacy will give the setting a green ("good"), yellow ("caution"), or red ("insecure") ranking. If your account settings prompt yellow or red warnings, the site will give you instructions on how to change those problematic settings.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags The New York Timessecurityonline privacyLinkedInshoppingConsumer AdviceinternetprivacyFacebook

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Ginny Mies

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?