Should You Share Your Data to Get a Deal?

Companies want your data––should you share it to get discounts?

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In the modern era, it’s hard to use the internet, store loyalty cards or credit cards without being part of the data sharing revolution. You may not be trying to share your data – in fact, you probably aren’t even aware you're doing it – but if you are seeking deals, it’s likely that you’re frequently trading data for discounts.

Many shoppers want the deals, but they don't want to give away too much personal information in return. Unfortunately, the data-to-discount loop can be a complicated––and delicate––balance. To get the scoop on how this works, check out the following primer.

What Companies Are Doing

No matter what moves you make, whether in brick-and-mortar stores or online, companies are likely tracking you and capturing data from your interests and purchases, as well as your shopping behavior. If you answer a survey, use a credit card, present a store loyalty card or simply surf the web, a profile is being created of your preferences. In addition, companies are culling information from your social media activity and your the direct contact that you have with them. In addition, they can purchase information about you and your buying habits from third parties.

Businesses use that information to create profiles about you so they can better market their products to you. Often this can result in deals and discounts that are customized based on what they know you’ve been seeking because of your prior behavior.

What the law says: If you’re using a website, you can typically check the privacy policy page of each site to see how the company uses your data, but not all companies reveal this information. In the state of California, you can opt out of data collection so your information is not captured, stored, shared or sold, but other US states don't have such laws. In Europe, the General Data Protection Regulation offers privacy to consumers. In many other states, however, data collection is still somewhat of the wild west in terms of the legality of tracking.

What Data Is Typically Traded for Coupons?

If you receive a coupon targeted just to you, chances are strong that you got it because you essentially traded your data for the customized deal. To understand how this works, first get a look at what it might look like in terms of your discounts and deals.

When you buy pet products online, you may find that you start getting mail and emails offering discounts on pet food. If you purchase diapers with your shopper loyalty card, you may start getting coupons from baby food companies. If you search online for hair dye, you could suddenly see coupons and deals from local salons showing up.

That’s because these companies are targeting you with deals based on your previous search and shopping behavior. In the case of the grocery purchases, your information may not have been sold to a third-party company––it could be the grocer itself that is targeting you to buy baby food because you bought diapers. In other cases, the salon may have purchased your data from the search firm where you hunted for hair dye and the pet food brand probably acquired your data from the pet supply firm where you bought products.

Should You Protect Your Information?

When it comes to data sharing, it’s possible that you’re perfectly comfortable trading your information for deals, discounts, and coupons. But if you aren’t, you may want to curtail your use of loyalty cards and online shopping so your behavior isn’t tracked as carefully.

To ensure that you’re well protected, be careful about what information you put on things like loyalty card applications and survey forms.

Never enter too much personal information that could compromise you if it got into the wrong hands.

For instance, avoid entering your Social Security Number and birth date onto forms like this if you can avoid giving away your birthday information. Instead, you can share your age group, such a “40 to 49” or “25 to 35.”

In addition, it can be a good idea to establish a separate email address that you only use for loyalty programs and online purchases. That way, you’re disclosing less information about yourself and you also prevent myriad spam emails from coming into your main email account.