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How to Hide Your Online Shopping and Keep Holiday Gifts a Secret

Some tips for keeping your online gift shopping a secret from snooping family members.

Online shopping makes it a bit harder to keep holiday gifts a secret from your family. If your kid is playing with the iPad when a pop up appears about the status of your recent order, they’re just a tap and a swipe away from knowing what it is. Have a shared Prime account? A quick glance at the product recommendations and they’ll know precisely what you’ve been browsing. Then there are cookies, pop-up ads, browser histories, and other such other online elements to worry about. In short, if you’re not careful, it can be easy for someone to figure out what Santa’s ordered for them. But there are ways to scrub your tracks. Here are some tips for keeping your holiday gifts secret in a connected world.

Mind Your Search History

Digging around the Internet for the best price on a nice necklace for your partner or that Fingerling your kid wants to see under the tree? Don’t forget to clear your recent search history. Better yet, do your searching in a private browser. Sure, it sounds obvious, but many a person has alerted others to their gift purchases by forgetting this simple step.

Don’t Forget About Cookies

Cookies basically save browsing information such as passwords and history to provide you with, as Google says, “locally relevant content.” Basically, this means that, not unlike Santa Claus, companies work with Google and other browsers to know what you are searching to tailor an internet experience that makes sense based on your preferences. In addition to clearing your browsing history, it’s important to clear your cookies to ensure all data of your recent purchases is gone and no savvy snoopers can see what you were thinking about buying.

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Clear Your Recommendations

Many sites, including Amazon, offer pop up ads or recommendations based off the product categories you recently browsed. So, if you’re, say, searching for that perfect Lego set in Amazon, your recommendations will include a lot of Lego sets. That’s not really something you want if your kid pops on Amazon every now and then.

One way to thwart this: Go to “Browser History” in your Amazon account and click the box that says “This was a gift.” This will prevent similar items from popping up in your recommendation feed.

Silence Your Ads

Spoiler alert: ads follow you everywhere you go on the Internet. So don’t forget to scrub social media of any traces of your recent searches. On Facebook, for instance, you can go to Settings and select the option that allows you to not see ads based on other sites you’ve visited. Might this be overkill? Maybe, But consider this tale of someone who sniffed out a marriage proposal because she kept seeing her boyfriend’s searches for engagement rings on Facebook as reason for the precaution.

Another good idea: install some free ad-blocking software. Our go-to: Adblock Plus, which blocks pop ups, banners, and a variety of other kinds of ads. It’s actually nice to have anyway for a better year-round browsing experience, as it stops you from visiting any nefarious, data-stealing sites and disables third-party cookies.

Use Amazon Household

If you’re an Amazon Prime Member, take advantage of Amazon Household, which lets each adult keep his or her account personal while sharing the same membership. Through Household, you can choose what to share or not to share with your family. This means you can keep your gift purchases a secret from the kids — and snooping spouses. Just be sure to turn off Amazon shipping updates on your phone because you don’t want a push notification to ruin your surprise.

Take Advantage of Amazon Lockers

Nothing says “THIS IS A GIFT” quite like the arrival of big brown box at your door. A good move is to have it shipped to your office or a friend’s house. If that’s not a possibility, send it to an Amazon Locker. To do this, simply log in to your account and locate the closest Amazon locker to your home (you search for it here). Choose it as your intended shipping address and anything you order will be sent there for you to retrieve. There’s no extra cost in having a package sent to an Amazon Locker. However, there are certain caveats, including that the package must weigh less than 20 pounds, be valued less than $5,000, contain no hazardous materials, and be no larger than 19 x 12 x 14 inches. (So, no, that enormous playhouse you bought the kids can’t be shipped there.) Just keep in mind that you have three days to pick up your delivery, or else it will be sent back.