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Is Temu safe? What to know before you place an order

The online retailer Temu is a popular new shopping platform, offering suspiciously low prices on a wide range of items. Is it safe to use? Let’s take a closer look at Temu, who owns it, and how legitimate it is as a company.

Is Temu safe? What to know before you place an order

What is Temu?

Temu is an e-commerce platform that has seen rapid growth since it launched in 2022. The business operates through a website and an app and functions in the same way that Amazon and other large online retailers work. Individual vendors list their items on Temu and take orders and payments through the platform.

Users can find an enormous variety of items for sale on Temu, from clothing and beauty products to electronics and household items. While a diverse selection of products is not unusual on a site like this, the prices can be surprisingly cheap. These prices have led many to wonder whether or not the site is safe to use and who is actually behind it.

Who owns Temu?

Temu is owned by a Chinese company called PDD Holdings. While Temu claims to be operating out of Boston in the US, its parent company is based in Shanghai, China.

PDD owns several e-commerce sites, including Pinduoduo, Temu’s Chinese sister site. Concerns have been raised by US government officials about the influence and involvement of the Chinese Communist Party in the company, but that hasn’t stopped Temu from becoming enormously popular among American consumers, who have downloaded the Temu app millions of times.

Is Temu legit?

Temu is a legitimate company and a functioning e-commerce site, but it lacks accreditation from the Better Business Bureau (BBB), which is the standard for major retailers.

Many of the tech items being sold on the site look like those manufactured by major companies like Dell or HP, but they’re not authentic. Only a small number of tech companies, including Lenovo and Xiaomi, actually sell through the site. You can tell if a brand on the Temu website has been verified because its listings will display a blue tick.

Anecdotal accounts have emerged from customers who received poor-quality items or were sold fake brands, but it’s hard to verify exactly how widespread such problems are. Issues with purchases are usually traced back to specific vendors selling through Temu rather than to the company itself.

Is Temu safe?

Safety concerns have been raised around Temu and its data-gathering practices. According to a report by Grizzly Research, the app has the potential to escalate its privileges once installed, harvesting more user data than it really needs to operate. This isn’t the first piece of bad press the company has faced, either.

In April 2023, privacy experts voiced concerns about the Pinduoduo app and its capacity to harvest huge amounts of user data without consent. In response to the allegations, PDD disbanded the team of developers who had been working on the Pinduoduo app — and according to reporting by CNN Business, moved the majority of them directly onto the Temu dev team.

Does that mean Temu is not safe? No, but it underlines the murky reputation of its parent company and its data-gathering practices. Many tech companies have been involved in privacy scandals over the last two decades, but Temu’s Chinese connections have made many in the Western world uneasy about where gathered data is being shared.

What data does Temu collect from you?

Temu gathers a lot of data on its users. On Temu’s Google Play Store entry, the company has volunteered a list of specific data it may need to access. Some of the entries on that list are clearly there for good reason — crash logs and app diagnostics, for example — and much of it is similar to the data gathered by any other online retailer.

It’s worth taking a look at the personal data and device privileges the app is designed to access:

  • Your name
  • Your email address
  • Your home address
  • Your phone number
  • Your payment information and purchase history
  • Photos and videos

Most of these data types are used, according to Temu, for “app functionality” and are listed as “optional.” However, most users will give consent for these data collection practices since they’re needed to run the app and make purchases.

While there is nothing inherently suspicious about any of the data being gathered here, you should be aware that this information is being held by a Chinese company with a history of alleged privacy infringement.

The good news — according to Temu, at least — is that the site comes with some built-in safety measures.

What safety measures does Temu use?

Temu encrypts user data and runs a basic customer refund scheme, which could allay some concerns among potential customers.

Purchase Protection Program

Temu’s Purchase Protection Program is a simple refund system. If you have an issue with an item you bought, you can return it within 90 days and claim a full refund. According to Temu, you can take advantage of the Purchase Protection Program if:

  • Your order doesn’t match the item descriptions or photos.
  • Your item arrived damaged.
  • Your item couldn’t be delivered, arrived late, or was lost in transit.

Payment handling

Temu uses standard security measures on its website, including HTTPS across all pages and TLS and SSL encryption protocols when processing transactions.

As previously stated, Temu’s transactional system is probably as secure as Amazon, Ebay, or any other online marketplace.

Security tips for user protection

Temu’s customer support provides privacy and security tips for its users. The suggestions include guidance on avoiding payment scams, protecting against phishing messages, creating strong passwords, and identifying Cash App scams.

While Temu’s security tips aren’t exactly groundbreaking, they still show some awareness of the company’s responsibility to safeguard its customers.

How to safely shop on Temu

When shopping on Temu, take the following steps to stay safe:

  • Check user reviews. If a vendor has only a small number of reviews, you should avoid buying from them, no matter how positive those reviews may be. Other online retailers, including Amazon, have been shown to display fake or inauthentic reviews, so look for vendors with a high volume of positive feedback.
  • Avoid making large purchases. At least for the time being, Temu’s strength seems to be its low prices rather than the quality of its merchandise. Buying an affordable water bottle or a cheap set of trainers is probably a safe bet while spending thousands on a new gaming console entails a higher risk.
  • Protect your account. As with any account, and especially those involving online payments, use a strong password. Good passwords are long — at least 10 characters — and made up of randomized numbers, letters, and symbols. Keeping your online accounts and profiles secure will protect your data and lower the chances of someone stealing your identity.
  • Make purchases through secure payment sites. You don’t always need to give your card details to sites like Temu to use them. Instead, use trusted payment interfaces like PayPal to handle your money and complete transactions. This is a safer way to pay online because it doesn’t involve actually handing your card data to the vendor. Alternatively, some banks offer one-time virtual cards, meaning that even if the card data falls into the wrong hands after a purchase, it cannot be used to steal additional money from your account.
  • Stay up to date on the company. Temu is a young company and we don’t know a great deal about its origins, its owners, its codebase, or its data-gathering practices. If you’re going to use Temu, make sure to keep an eye on news related to the company, so you can stay up to date on any new scandals or negative revelations that emerge in the coming months. Keeping yourself informed is always an important part of cyber hygiene.

What is the Temu controversy?

The Temu controversy centers around the data-gathering practices of its parent company, PDD Holdings. As alluded to earlier in this article, PDD also owns a Chinese retailer called Pinduoduo, the app for which was (for a while) available on the Google Play Store.

In early 2023, a report by CNN claimed that Pinduoduo was leveraging weaknesses in Android systems to spy on device data without permission. This information was then used to more accurately leverage sales and marketing. In effect, the app was malware, and Google removed Pinduoduo from the Play Store as a result of the report.

In response, Pinduoduo blamed a team of developers who were working on the Pinduoduo app and promptly fired them. CNN has since reported that the majority of the fired developers found new jobs working at Temu.

The Temu controversy might not stop you from using the e-commerce site completely, but it should give you pause. Is your privacy worth sacrificing for a pair of bargain shoes?

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