by Spencer Mead, Associate Survey and Symposium Editor

The invention of the internet forever changed the way consumers shop. Consumers now can order an item and receive it within less than 24 hours of the order date. Some of the benefits of online shopping include ease, ability to compare prices across multiple stores, it can be cheaper, and shopping can be more efficient be eliminating the need to physically drive to a store. This has caused a massive surge in the number of people who are shopping online instead of going through a store. Most people assume it is safe to shop online as long as they stay away from phishing scams and seedier parts of the internet. But is this just a false sense of security? This explosion in internet shopping has coincided with a large increase in the number of hackers around the world attempting to get one’s personal information in order to steal their identity or their money.


            Any security felt with being on the internet seems to be a false one with the government’s extensive spying efforts recently coming to light.[1] Some are probably thinking the NSA’s spying program was targeted only at possible terrorists right? Well the short answer is no, the NSA has been targeting all Americans and hording vast amounts of information on these Americans.[2] Well if the government is spying on us are the big companies at least doing anything to try and protect our information? The short answer is yes they are, but how successful are they?


            Target recently made headlines for having over 70 million Target customer’s information stolen.[3] These 70 million customers had their personal information stolen such as their email addresses, mailing addresses, and/or phone numbers stolen.[4] In addition, 40 million target customers had all of their credit card information stolen.[5] This obviously can create problems with people using this stolen information to charge items on the credit accounts. Additionally, if a person’s social security number was tied into the credit card information these thieves would be able to open up other lines of credit in the person’s name without their knowledge. This can have a major impact on a person’s credit score.


            So as a consumer what can you do to protect your information? Well unfortunately not shopping online is not an option. The credit card information was stolen from consumers that used their credit cards within a physical Target store.[6] The best thing a consumer could realistically do would be to not shop online, and to make all purchases in cash. This would eliminate the possibility of a company ever obtaining one’s personal information. However, this raises other concerns such as carrying large amounts of a cash on one’s person, building a credit score by regularly using a credit card, and how to make large purchases easily.


            Obviously there is no way to keep one’s information perfectly safe in this day and age. However, being aware of the problems and putting pressure on large companies to better protect consumer information is a step in the right direction to better secure our personal data. Maybe one day payment methods will be tied into a person’s DNA so that they are the only ones that could possibly use it. However, any such technology is a long ways off and we are going to have to deal with the shortcomings of today’s security.

[1] Electronic Frontier Foundation, How the NSA’s Domestic Spying Program Works, (last visited on Jan. 22, 2014).

[2] Id.

[3] Hadley Malcom, Target: Data stolen from up to 70 million customers, USA Today, Jan. 10, 2014 available at

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.