Black Friday: These Webshops Gather Your Personal Information

Woman is online shopping with her laptop in her lap and her credit card in hand

It’s hard not to get wrapped up in the fun of Black Friday — there’s just so much on offer. For those of us accustomed to online shopping, Cyber Monday deals are especially attractive. After all, who wants to have to battle through hundreds of people to grab a discounted TV or the last pair of bargain boots when you can get the same stuff from the comfort of your couch?

Unfortunately, online shopping comes with its own hazards, and your online privacy is always at risk. Malware, viruses, and phishing scams hide behind every corner. But it’s not just faceless hackers you should be concerned about: the web pages themselves are riddled with big data collection programs that track your every move.

Do you ever wonder what kind of information your favorite online stores collect about you? It’s probably a lot more than you think!

What Kinds of Personal Data Do Online Shopping Sites Collect?

You may already have put some savings aside for Black Friday or bookmarked your favorite products to grab for a fraction of the price. Still, we hope to prepare you for Cyber Monday in a different way: by briefing you on exactly which online shopping platforms collect your data, and what kind of data they track.

We took a critical look at the privacy policies of the ten most popular Black Friday and Cyber Monday webshops to check exactly what kind of information they’re storing about you. Turns out, these stores take more than just your money when you press “Checkout” — they save everything from your location, phone number, and date of birth, to your social media handle, clothing size, and bank card details.

Have a look at our results below to see exactly what kind of information these companies (Amazon, Currys, ASOS, John Lewis, Argos, AO, Very, Boots, Netaporter, and Dyson) might have on you.

Types Of Data Online Shopping Sites Collect, table with information

Top 5 Black Friday Sites That Compromise Your Online Privacy

Out of the companies we’ve researched, these are the five Black Friday shopping sites that collect the most information on you.

1. Amazon: King of data collection

Overall, we found Amazon to be the site with the most points of data collected. It’s host to one of the biggest Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales for shoppers to take advantage of, as it dedicates an entire week to online savings.

The online retailer giant took a staggeringly high $221.60 billion of worldwide revenue in the first six months of 2021 alone. But that’s not the only valuable thing they took from their customers: Amazon’s website is responsible for collecting 60 different pieces of personal information. This ranges from the basics of name, address, and phone number to Alexa voice recordings, your friend’s emails, and even your credit history information from credit bureaus.

2. AO: Trade your personal information for tech

For those who are looking to upgrade their homes and tech this year, AO’s sales might be on your radar already — but AO has its eyes on you, too. The site is responsible for collecting 38 elements of your private information, earning it a second place on our list.

The data collected ranges from expected info like your name and address to your preferences, the size of your family, and how affluent you are. If you’re wondering what AO needs all of this information for, you’re not alone. Does the company really need to know your gender and marital status in order to send you your Black Friday products? We sincerely doubt it.

3. John Lewis: From social media handles to your ID

If you’re planning on a haul of homeware, fashion, and electricals for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, you may be heading to John Lewis’ website. We found that this luxury retailer took the third-largest amount of data from its visitors, collecting 31 elements including your social media handle, clothing size, and identification documents.

In some cases, it makes sense for the company to be aware of this kind of information. Their privacy policy mentions that your social media username will be known to them if you interact with the company through those platforms. However, they actively store and use this information to tailor your shopping experience — in other words, to hopefully get you to spend more money.

4. Currys: Share your financial position with Currys

We also looked at Currys’ privacy policy to see what you can expect there on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The homeware appliance and technology store collects 29 pieces of information from their customers, with the most notable being subscription services and your financial position. They even collect the date and time of texts and calls you receive on their network and your location at the time they take place.

Although Currys comes in at number 4 on our list, some of the details they might be gathering about you are particularly alarming. Not even Amazon asks you for data about your current job or financial status. This information might seem trivial, but imagine how uncomfortable you’d feel if the person behind the counter asked you how much you earn before handing you your change.

5. ASOS: Data collection — but make it fashion

For those of you heading to ASOS to refresh your winter wardrobe whilst saving some pennies, be wary. This clothing retailer is another top contender for Black Friday deals — and for collecting the most data on its customers. It ends up closing our top five with a collection of 20 kinds of personal data.

Our research found that the clothing site collects basic information, but also records your body shape and size, your screen name, saved items, and past purchases.

Should You Be Worried About Data Collection?

Of course, some of the information collected by online stores is necessary for the site to function properly. Filling in your billing information every single time you press checkout isn’t exactly a seamless experience, and it’s especially unpleasant if you only realize a shop doesn’t deliver to your location at the very last moment.

However, when sites begin collecting personal information we likely wouldn’t share with just anyone, it starts to feel uncomfortable. Even though the websites “ask” for your permission by getting you to agree with their cookie notice, your privacy can feel encroached upon. You might not want data about your financial status or the number of family members you have to be shared with faceless corporations. And who can blame you? In most cases, customers have no idea where that information could end up, or how it could be used.

Tips to Keep Your Data Secure While Online Shopping

If you don’t want these big corporations to gather so much information about you, you’re in luck. There are some easy steps you can take to minimize the amount of data that websites collect on you. Here are the three most important ones:

  1. Disable and delete third-party cookies: You’ve probably come across a cookie pop-up before. Next time you go online shopping, don’t click “allow all cookies” without a second thought. If you do, you give these websites permission to track you. Third-party cookies are used to track your activity between sites, so they can create a scarily accurate profile on who you are and what you like. If you can, disable these third-party cookies (along with other unnecessary trackers) and delete the existing ones from your browser.
  2. Think twice before you share personal details: Many platforms allow you to create your own profile with a profile picture, date of birth, checkout details, and a variety of other facts about your life. Before you fill this in, always consider whether the website actually needs that information for the service they offer. If you have the option, don’t fill out these details and leave them blank instead.
  3. Use a VPN: Some people might advise you to use your browser’s incognito mode to stay anonymous online, but this doesn’t actually work. “Private mode” isn’t enough if you don’t want your data to be saved anywhere. Instead, we suggest getting a VPN (Virtual Private Network). A VPN encrypts your information and hides your IP address, meaning that websites won’t be able to read your location and other bits of personal information as easily.

In short, if you want to stay safe while online shopping, you need to watch your cookies, think critically, and use the right technology. This will give you excellent protection against big corporations and their data collection schemes.

If you’re looking for a VPN to try, we recommend Surfshark. This VPN provider is relatively cheap and works well on desktops, smartphones, and countless other devices. Moreover, Surfshark might even enable you to get better Black Friday deals and escape price discrimination. If you’re interested, you can always check out the Surfshark website.

Methodology

In order to conduct this research, we scoured the internet to find out which sites are rumored to be offering some of the best Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals of 2021. We then dove into each site’s privacy policy to find out what data you could be handing over in order to score the best bargain. This could be your name, addresses, payment details, or even household size. Using this information, we counted which business gathers the most data points and which gathers the least. The results can be found in the infographic presented in this article and allowed us to create a top 5.

We must warn you that, whilst many companies do reveal the details of their data collection within their privacy policy, most only give “examples” of data. It’s likely these examples aren’t a complete list of all collected data — just what they’ve decided to disclose. We used the data available to us to conduct the most complete research.

Security research coordinator
Priscilla is VPNOverview’s chief editor and has several years of experience in tech, specifically when it comes to VPNs and product reviews. She helps coordinate the team and ensures that all content on our website is honest and accessible.