Key takeaways

  • Retail websites often ask you for your credit card information to complete a transaction, and they’d like to be able to hold on to that information for the future.
  • If you aren’t comfortable storing your card information on a website, you should be able to check out as a guest or remove your payment information from the website after checking out.
  • Websites can sometimes be designed to manipulate consumer choices — if there’s no way of opting out of having your information stored, you could take the issue up with the FTC or other authorities.

When you’re shopping online, you’ve probably seen retailers ask if you’d like to save your card information. While the rationale is that doing so is a convenience for you, it also creates a sticky situation that’s beneficial for the merchant since it encourages you to come back for future shopping.

While you should have the choice to decide whether you want to save your card information with a particular merchant, you may also find that you don’t have the chance to opt out of the situation.

As an example, reader Juanita recently shared that, “A local sports facility offers summer classes for kids. Weekly sessions can be purchased individually, and the person must register each time they sign up for a session. They only accept credit card payments, and although their payment form powered by EZ Facility offers the option to uncheck the statement ‘I authorize Longplex LLC to store my credit card information for future payments,’ the ability to uncheck it isn’t available.”

Understandably, Juanita wanted to know if this behavior was lawful. Here’s what she needs to know.

How to remove card information from an online site

Many merchants will ask you to set up an account and provide your personal information before you make a purchase, including your credit card details. However, some websites will also allow you to check out as a guest so that you don’t have to store your personal information on the site.

In case you have concerns about your card information being compromised and don’t have the option of checking out as a guest, you can complete your purchase and then remove your card information from the website. You should be able to do this by going to your account on the website and looking up your payment information. From there, you should be able to remove or delete the card information you provided earlier for your transaction.

Dark patterns undermine consumer choice

While this process seems simple enough, be aware that some merchants make it deliberately difficult for you to effectively exercise this option.

One way they do this is by designing their sites to utilize dark patterns that subvert your choices. For example, according to the Federal Trade Commission, dark patterns incorporate design elements that:

  • Don’t allow consumers to “definitely reject” collection or use of data
  • Repeatedly lead consumers to select settings they don’t favor and want to avoid
  • Use confusing settings that lead consumers to make privacy choices they did not intend to choose
  • Highlight choices that make for more information collection, while “graying out” options that allow consumers to avoid this
  • Purposefully obscure privacy choices and make them difficult to find
  • Use default settings that are geared to maximize data collection and storage

What if you can’t opt out of having a website store your information?

In Juanita’s case, if a website doesn’t allow for opting out of storing your credit card information — since she can’t uncheck the option to store the information — that seems like a design element with a dark patterns agenda.

In addition to the FTC, various state authorities have also been cracking down on dark patterns that are aimed at thwarting consumers’ choices. For instance, the California Consumer Privacy Act, the Colorado Privacy Act and similar legislation in Connecticut weigh in on the use of online dark patterns.

If Juanita wants to opt out of having a website store her card information, but finds that she can’t exercise that option, she should first see if she can resolve the matter with the merchant. If that doesn’t work, she could take up the issue with the appropriate authorities.

For one, she could file a report with the FTC. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has also been concerned about businesses using dark patterns to manipulate consumers, and she could put in a complaint with that agency. In addition, she could turn to her state attorney general for guidance.

The bottom line

Although retailer websites want to hold on to your card information to make it more likely that you’ll shop with them in future, you should be able to check out as a guest if you don’t want your personal details stored. If you don’t have that option, you can also try to complete your transaction and then remove your card information from the website.

If a website is designed so that your option to decline the storing of your credit card information cannot be exercised, it seems you’re being manipulated. If you can’t sort out the situation with the merchant, consider filing a complaint with the appropriate authorities.