The information about what you buy and where you buy it is worth a small fortune. And companies and governments stumble over one another trying to gather it.
There might not be anything directly nefarious about this. Ostensibly, companies want to provide you better, more tailored ads, and governments want to be able to better draft policy. They want to know not just what you’re buying, but what you might buy, and where you might buy it.
You might not particularly mind being stalked like this. After all, doesn’t this information “personalize” all of these retailers to better meet your needs? However, this information can (and routinely does) get sold to other parties, lost, or stolen. There are other very negative consequences, not the least of which being political polarization, but those are beyond the scope of this short post!
My wife and I are considerably more concerned about this than we used to be. As doxxing, death threats, censorship and generalized online crime become increasingly common, privacy matters more. And of course, much of this maliciousness is routinely directed at people with similar careers as my wife, and at people with similar political opinions. If you have an unpopular idea, it’s much too easy for a dedicated pursuer to gather this information and use it to their own ends.
If you have any doubts, take a minute to do a quick lookup of your name, email address or phone number in these services:
- Contact information: That’s Them, Spokeo, BeenVerified
- Data Breaches: HaveIBeenPwned, SnusBase, Dehashed
I have a post on how I improved my personal privacy, which dealt with removing my name and contact information from some of the above services. However, moving forward, a great deal of my personal practices have had to change.
In the real world, even during the tumultuous year of 2020, it’s generally been possible to pay with cash—a nearly anonymous currency. Using cash makes it much more difficult for data collectors, whether corporations or governments, to track your location and activities. However, online you have no such option.
Bitcoin can be used anonymously, but it’s complicated, expensive, and relatively slow for small, routine transactions. Relatively few places accept it. Apps like Samourai make it faster and simplify the process of anonymizing the transaction, so it might be an agreeable solution for very large transactions, but a general solution it most certainly isn’t.
Some services allow you to buy prepaid gift cards and use them online. This is clumsy, and often has fees associated with it. It wasn’t the general solution I was looking for.
However, at least I found one really excellent solution: Privacy.com.
Privacy.com allows you to create new debit cards, linked to your bank account. The cards can be locked to one merchant, or can be used once as a burner. Limits can be set on each card to add an additional layer of protection. But best of all, you can use absolutely any name or address you like.
I’ve replaced most instances of my debit card with Privacy.com cards. It seems to me they profit by taking the transaction fee generally given to the card supplier, and you benefit from the anonymity they provide—an agreeable arrangement. They do have a paid tier with 1% cashback. It’s entirely worth it to pay them the $10 simply as a matter of supporting their service, and make liberal use of it.