When we shop online, we are usually given the option of creating an account with the retailer, or to check out as a guest. When creating an account, the retailer asks a number of questions about us, which they then keep on their servers as long as we keep that account open (and people rarely cancel online accounts). The difference with checking out as a guest is that our details should only be kept on their servers for a minimal period of time, after which it should be deleted (although this will vary according to the retailer).
The reason we should want our details to be deleted is due to the dangers of their systems being breached. When attackers try to hack retailer’s servers, they usually look for personal details (which they can usually sell to fellow criminals online) or credit card numbers. Together with the personal details of the retailer’s users, this could allow the attackers to use those cards themselves, or even to sell those details on as well. Basically, the data that retailers keep about their users is very valuable, and it is one of the main reasons why we keep hearing so much about retailers servers being hacked.
As consumers, shopping online is a normal part of our retail experience so it would be unreasonable to expect us not to do it at all. At the same time, although we can hope that retailers protect their systems better so that our details are not at risk, we can try to make our data safer by at least choosing the more secure options. In the case of checking out as a guest, this should ensure that our details are not kept around for too long. This will help to provide us with some level of assurance that our details are not laying around waiting for an attacker to find them.
It is impossible for us to both shop online and expect none of our details to be stored on retailer’s servers. But by using a process in which our details are not kept on them permanently, this should at least ensure that we are less at risk of having our details stolen at some point in time in the future. Checking out as a guest is not something which will completely protect our personal details, but is a useful habit to get used to using to give ourselves a little bit more protection online.