Tracking consumers

If it seems like companies are tracking every single thing you do, well, you may be right. Businesses we do business with are keeping more of our personal information and actions on file. Kelli Grant, Senior Consumer Reporter for SmartMoney.com tells what they're tracking, and how to cope.


Facebook admitted last week that it tracks users' online activity after they leave the site. It's not uncommon for web sites to do so, using little files called cookies that automatically download as you browse. Be sure to clear out your computer periodically. You might also consider installing software that seeks out such files and other malicious downloads.

If you're signed up for a loyalty program to earn rewards or discounts, you can bet that a company is paying attention to your purchases, too. More retailers are tailoring deals to your purchase history. That means better deals for some people, but could be worse for those missing out. Search for the store name and "code" before you buy, to see if another shopper scored -- and shared -- a better deal.

Several phone apps and operating systems monitor the location of your phone, while OnStar and BMW said this year they might start tracking information on your car's location for traffic reports. Read the privacy policy of any site you sign up for to see what information they collect and who they share it with.

Hotels, airlines and restaurants are using software to track customer preferences. Even infrequent diners might get their "favorite table" or a waiter that remembers you're allergic to shrimp and like red wine. British Airways just gave its crews iPads with info on travelers' preferences. It's not about selling you more, but making sure you have a great experience and come back.

As we enter the holiday shopping season, keep in mind that stores are paying close attention to return, especially those without a receipt. Organized retail theft is on the rise, and tracking the number and amount of returns is a good way to limit it. Hang on to your receipts, and be prepared for a "no" if you're a frequent returner.

For more information on cyber tracking and other consumer tips click here.

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