As holiday shopping ramps up, so does data tracking

The holiday season is a critical time for retail companies; many make nearly half of their total income during this time. And with so much at stake, stores are using a new tool to nudge you into spending more: Data.

Retailers now use as much as information as they can gather on you, from where you've lived to what you watch on TV, to try to target the right products towards you.

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"You may notice sometimes ads will follow you around from site to site," says Marketplace reporter Stacey Vanek Smith, "if you're looking at a pair of boots on [shoe retail site] Zappos, you may notice when you go onto Facebook, the pair of boots shows up."

"If you have a history with a store, then they know when you tend to buy, how much you tend to spend, maybe what your credit's like," Vanek Smith says.

But if you want to limit the amount of tracking companies can engage in, Vanek Smith suggests a few websites that can help:

DuckDuckGo

Unlike Google and other search engines, DuckDuckGo doesn't keep track of your search queries or what links you click on to target advertising to you later.

Ghostery

Ghostery works by installing itself into your web browser, and blocking attempts by third-party data trackers to collect your information and potentially sell it to other companies. 

Though targeted advertising brings up privacy concerns, it also can provide for a better shopping experience or provide discounts on things shoppers might want, too. "It is very convenient for consumers," Vanek Smith says, "suddenly you are getting ads that are relevant to you for things you might want to buy." 

"You're getting coupons when you walk into a store. That might save you money that you're interested in, much more than the circular that you would normally get when you walk into a supermarket. There is this advantage and I think that is what we're dealing with in all cases of big data. The customer gets something in exchange for their information."

About the author

Carmen Wong Ulrich is the former host of Marketplace Money, APM’s weekend personal finance program.

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