In 2016, it’s remarkably hard to buy something anonymously. Bitcoin would be the easiest way, but most places don’t accept it. Even walking into a store and paying cash, there’s a decent chance you’ll be asked for your name and zip code. Paying online is even harder. Use a credit card or a traditional payment service and the odds are your purchase will end up in an anonymized database, used to target you the next time advertisers want to find someone who’s bought a burrito, a pair of jeans, or a lamp in the last month.
Launching today, a new project called Privacy.com wants to change that. Modeled off password managers, Privacy.com works as the commerce equivalent of a VPN, sitting between you and the larger payment system. When it comes time to pay, Privacy.com drops in a one-time credit card number with no connection to you personally. The charges are still passed along as usual, but as far as the store is concerned, the money’s coming from Privacy.com. Like PayPal, it also means you can pay through a debit account instead of a credit card, something that would normally make you far more exposed to fraud.
Payment isn't the only way marketers get your information, but it gets rid of the trickiest piece of the puzzle. You’ll still be asked for a name and billing address, but Privacy.com is very friendly with pseudonyms as long as you’re not making Venmo-style person-to-person transfers, which raise more complicated legal issues. You’re also trusting Privacy.com to keep all that data safe and private, just like a traditional VPN. In exchange, you get a new layer of insulation from the world of online fraud.