May 23, 2020

Is it a Sale? Or a Targeted AD?

How dynamic pricing, search data, and global events can be used to make you pay higher, unfair prices.

Thanks to COVID-19, shopping in 2020 looks more different than ever.

While previous years most people ventured into shopping malls or big box stores to take advantage of deals, this year most of the world is ordering everything online. According to Adobe, “Online shopping has become the primary means of commerce during COVID-19.” (https://theblog.adobe.com/april-digital-economy-index-how-covid-19-continues-to-shift-e-commerce-trends/)

And! If you’re like millions of people whose income has been impacted by the crisis, you’re looking to find the best prices online. But, does online shopping make it easier to get the best price? The answer is yes and no.

Comparing prices online may be easier, but behind the scenes, companies are using complex algorithms to collect your personal data and change prices to fit their earnings report.

How are companies collecting data to increase prices?

Companies, from airlines and hotels to Amazon, are using dynamic pricing to gather data and change prices accordingly.

In a NY Times, Angela Zutavern explained that dynamic pricing uses AI to “scan the web for global news events, weather predictions, trending Google searches, social media posts, local event schedules and other factors that could affect demand.” (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/27/business/cheap-airfare.html)

This means that when it comes to pricing, the COVID-19 crisis, your data from non-private search engines, whether it’s hot or cold outside, and what people are posting on social media could all impact how much you pay for your groceries and consumer goods.

In April, nonprofits newsroom The Markup broke down how dynamic pricing has led to overpriced items on Amazon during the COVID-19 crisis. Using Keepa’s data, they showed:

An eight-pack of Barilla spaghetti, whose price normally hovers around $10, shot up to $49.25. The cost of an eight-pack of Skippy Superchunk Peanut Butter nearly quadrupled, from $12.52 to $45.

(https://themarkup.org/ask-the-markup/2020/04/28/why-am-i-paying-60-for-that-bag-of-rice-on-amazon-com)

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How non-private search engines are influencing your purchases

Aside from using your search data to change prices, companies are also using it to target you with ads that follow you around the web and from device to device.

Non-private search engines do most of the work, capturing your search history, online activity, and other personal data. They use your personal data to create a digital profile that includes everything from location, interests, job industry, homeownership status, level of education, and more.

If you have an interest in luxury goods, own a home, and work in the tech industry, then your non-private search engine will help companies target you with ads for higher-income individuals. This may in the long run, influence you to make pricier purchases.

To read more about how your non-private search engine collects and uses your personal data: https://www.startpage.com/blog/privacy-awareness/the-digital-profile-your-search-engine-is-saving-and-selling-on-you

Privacy Pro Tip: Don’t let Big Tech and companies use your personal data to drive up prices. Use Startpage to search for deals on essentials. And! If you use Startpage’s Anonymous View feature, you can visit the page in total privacy.

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