Column: Many retailers asking for personal information at checkout

BY SANDRA RIANO
Opinions Editor

More than 100 million people were affected by the Target security breach that occurred in the midst of the last holiday season, according to USA Today. What can be done by consumers to avoid having their information and credit cards compromised?

The simple answer seems to be to not give out personal information, but how will such customers receive coupons and deals exclusively offered to rewards club members and special members? It seems to be a tough decision between saving some much-needed money and allowing corporations to have the customer’s address and home phone number.

Some companies, such as Apple, A&P and DEB, have very similar privacy policies. According to the Apple website, “We may… use personal information for internal purposes such as auditing, data analysis, and research to improve Apple’s products, services, and customer communications.”

A&P is clear in its policy that no information will be sold or rented, but can be used by product suppliers to send promotions. And according to the DEB website, all information collected in stores is used “to communicate with you and to send you information by email, postal mail, telephone, text message, or other means about our products, services, contests, and promotions.”

Considering that most consumers shop at multiple stores with differing policies, how can they figure out which corporations are selling their information? The only option is to pay attention to what places receive personal information and to use couponing apps like RetailMeNot and SnipSnap to get special offers and deals.

The issue affects consumers and retail associates. Many of these associates have to ask everyone for their information and are expected to get positive results and reach certain numbers. In certain companies, like Payless ShoeSource, the “Rewards number,” which is achieved by submitting a phone number, email, mailing address and name, is extremely important and is focused on just as much as sales.

Massachusetts and California have strict privacy laws that make it illegal for retailers to ask for personal information in order to complete the transaction. Violating this law is punishable by a fine of $250 in California, according to Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

Some stores use this information for positive purposes, such as marketing and learning about demographics, but others sell or swap the information for even more information about their customers by means of data brokers.

There are two sides to this debate and no definitive answer that could make both the seller and buyer satisfied. If the customer is willing to deal with the occasional email and call from an unknown number, then giving out personal information is not too much to sacrifice for money saving coupons.

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