Simplified Privacy

Browser Fingerprints Lead to Price Discrimination

Some people mistakenly believe they do not need to worry about online privacy because they have “nothing to hide.”  In reality, your digital identity expressed through a browser fingerprint, cookies, and IP address will determine if you have to pay more for the same goods and services, what employment opportunities you’ll be presented with, and even housing and credit.

This article will give you an overview of the different types of discrimination caused by artificial intelligence algorithms accessing your data.  Privacy is not just something for some fringe anti-government groups, but it’s important to everyone to be able to receive fair pricing and equal opportunities in life. You would get a lot out of subscribing for free to our new content by email, by Session messenger, via RSS feed, uncensored Ethereum push notifications, or on Nostr.

The sources for this article can be found here.

Price Discrimination

Many companies will take advantage of any data they can get on you to charge more.  For example, Kare 11 News found from a rigorous study in 2019 that the popular retailer Target charged more to users using Target’s mobile app when they were physically near the store whereas the price was lower when they were near a competitor. [1a]

Money Talks News covering this said:

Target’s app price for a particular Samsung 55-inch Smart TV was $499.99, but when we pulled into the parking lot of the Minnetonka store, that price suddenly increased to $599.99 on the app.[1b]

In this example, Target is obviously aware that if you are physically near their store then you’re more likely to buy out of convenience and are less price sensitive.  On the other hand, if you’re standing near a competitor, Target needs to lure you away with a good deal.  But location based price discrimination isn’t just limited to being near a store… 

Researchers at Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany and the University of Twente in the Netherlands  found that many popular travel websites charged more to book the exact same hotel room depending upon what country a customer’s IP address says he or she is from and the browser’s language setting. [2]

Their study automated booking hotel rooms using many different browser footprints (e.g., IP addresses, browser type, and language).  The researchers studied the prices received from many different countries for booking the same hotel rooms in Los Angeles, London, Berlin, and Tokyo.  Across many different popular websites, they found that US citizens with the browser’s language setting on English paid the least.  For example Booking.com had higher significantly higher rates for booking the same room with a Pakistan IP address than with a US address. [2]  Clearly, Booking.com is taking advantage of those with less resources and education to charge more.  In addition, the researchers found that changing the browser’s language to German increased prices. [2]

But price discrimination isn’t just about countries.  The Harvard Business Review reported on a Pro Publica study which found that a famous SAT preparation course (the Princeton Review) charged more to Asians!  Keep in mind, the Princeton Review did not openly admit to charging Asians more, but their algorithm increased prices for IP addresses in predominately Asian neighborhoods, such as the poorest parts of Flushing Queens. [4] Because Asians place such a high emphasis on academic achievement for their children, the Princeton Review decided to exploit this and charge more, even if the people were living in neighborhoods associated with poverty.

Browser Fingerprints

What type of device you’re using also influences the price you’ll pay.  A CBS News investigation found that a variety of companies charge more to PC users than  mobile users. [5]  This may be because a seller can track you better on mobile. 

In contrast, the Guardian found that cookies heavily influenced price discrimination in many different retailers. [6]  In 2019, the Click Hub confirmed this theory with evidence that cookies influence airline price tickets.  [7]   There is a lot of speculation about how airline pricing work, but many researchers agree that airlines try to charge more if their algorithms determine you need to book the flight no matter what the price is.  Checking the same flight multiple times can jack up the cost. [3]

Researchers from Northeastern University found that what browser you use to shop online could also influence the price.  For example, they found that Travelocity charged $50 more to Chrome users. [8a] Their results were not just limited to travel websites, but also found different types of price discrimination at Bestbuy, HomeDepot, Macys, Newegg, OfficeDepot, and even Walmart. [8c]

This problem has been going on for a long time.  An investigation in 2012 by the Wall Street Journal found that Orbitz charged Mac users more than Window users. [9] The rationale is that Apple products cost more, so the users would likely be more willing to pay up for travel.

In a different Wall Street Journal investigation, reporters found (the now bankrupt) Staples doing price discrimination based on how far the customer was to a rival’s store.  Quote:  “Staples, for example, has offered discounted prices based on whether rival stores are within 20 miles of its customers’ location.” [5]

Employment Discrimination

Algorithms fingerprinting you and abusing your personal data is not just limited charging more; it can also result in less employment opportunities.  Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that women received fewer instances of Google ads encouraging them to take higher paying jobs than did men. [10]  The researchers believed that this was not due to Google’s internal bias, but Google’s fingerprinting enabling  advertisers to express their own biases.

Similar morally questionable discrimination was found by researchers studying on Facebook’s algorithms.  According to the Maastricht Journal of European and Comparative Law, Facebook has been sued many times for discrimination in what types of ads are displayed for employment, housing, and credit advertising.  In fact, Facebook even allowed businesses to target certain races for employment ads, which is illegal in the United States.  Facebook claimed this was just using which cultural groups the user opted in to and said it would change its methods. [11]

But according to this same Maastricht University research, Facebook continued its illegal racist employment targeting even after it claimed in court it would stop. [11]   Supposedly Facebook and Google aren’t biased against certain races or genders, but their pervasive fingerprinting and cookies enable advertisers and third party websites to be.

Microsoft, which owns LinkedIn, even admits to enabling and encouraging discrimination through AI.  Solon Barocas of Microsoft Research wrote a lengthy piece in the California Law Review on “Big Data’s Disparate Impact.”  Barocas discusses LinkedIn’s talent match feature, which displays candidates with whatever bias the employer has due to artificial intelligence machine learning. [12] LinkedIn has a corrupt business model of deriving more of its profits from selling user data then from advertising jobs on the website itself. [13]

LinkedIn doesn’t care if you starve while job hunting, they get rich off selling your data

Conclusion

In conclusion, Big Tech will enable retailers and employers to use whatever data they can get to charge more or discriminate.  The best way to protect yourself and get equal opportunity in life is to utilize the tools available to you such as Linux, VPNs, and free and open source software.  You would get a lot out of subscribing for free to our new content by email, by Session messenger, via RSS feed, uncensored Ethereum push notifications, or on Nostr.

We also can help you with your technical needs with Linux technical support or FOSS alternatives. Reach out and book a consultation today to liberate yourself from the corrupt tyranny of Big Tech.

The sources for this article can be found here.

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