July 22, 2013
If the recent revelations about the National Security Agency’s (NSA) massive data collection and spying schemes on Americans have made you reconsider the state of your privacy, you may be shocked to learn that some online merchants are also now using your personal data to rip you off when you shop online. According to new reports, some internet businesses are actually tracking users’ browsing histories and charging them more for goods and services if they visit “high-end” websites that sell expensive products.
As reported by the U.K.’s Guardian, some online travel merchants, for instance, are charging users more for plane fares and hotel stays if their browsing histories reveal a liking for expensive products and services. Users who visit websites that sell fancy jewelry, for example, or that promote lavish vacations could end up paying more for the travel services to get there, as opposed to other users whose browsing histories reveal a more frugal approach to life.
“Having your data passed around can … lead you to be charged more for an item,” writes Charles Arthur for Guardian.co.uk. “[I]f your browsing history shows you visit high-end sites, some sites will increase prices. (That’s why plane fares can drop if you delete the ‘cookie’ files in your browser.)”
To put it another way, some of the very same private data being collected by the occupying federal powers is also being collected, at least to some degree, by online businesses for the purpose of “customizing” the prices of products for individual users. This means that so-called “rich” folks, or even just people who visit websites that look “rich,” could be paying more than everybody else for the same products.
Orbitz exposed for charging Mac users more for travel accommodations
The Guardian piece does not divulge the names of online merchants that engage in such practices, but an earlier report in The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) identifies the popular travel website Orbitz as one known culprit. According to this report, Orbitz actually charges users browsing its site on Apple computers up to 30 percent more for hotel stays than users browsing on PCs.
“The sort of targeting undertaken by Orbitz is likely to become more commonplace as online retailers scramble to identify new ways in which people’s browsing data can be used to boost online sales,” writes Dana Mattioli for the WSJ. “The effort underscores how retailers are becoming bigger users of so-called predictive analytics, crunching reams of data to guess the future shopping habits of customers.”
Regularly clearing your cache, browsing in privacy mode can help you save money online
So how can you avoid being taken advantage of while shopping online? The simplest and most obvious way is to activate the “privacy mode” function on your web browser, which will prevent websites from accessing and tracking your personal data. You can also disable cookies from being stored and tracked by the websites you visit, or at least regularly delete them from your system by going into your browser’s settings and clearing them out.
For additional privacy, you can also use search engines like Ixquick, Startpage, and DuckDuckGo, none of which collect and store your personal data. This is important, as many popular search engines such as Google and Bing actively track your activity and exploit it — or worse, furnish it to the rogue American police state to be potentially used against you in the future. Other helpful privacy tools include Disconnect, Adblock Edge, Ghostery, and HTTPS Everywhere, which you can find online.