Online purchases may be getting more expensive, less private

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Many websites have privacy policies explaining what data they collect and how they use it. (Photo Illustration by George Walker | The Collegian)

The Internet gives shoppers their own personal database of what seems to be endless opportunities of the best deals. Don’t like the price of airfare to Mexico? Just type in another search and click away until you find the same destination for a lower price.

But what if you were told those newly-purchased plane tickets weren’t the best deal and were just fool’s gold?

In 2001, attorneys Robert Weiss and Ajay Mehrotra published a study that detailed how travel companies can use technology to perfect their online marketing appeal. Companies now have the power to gain access to countless amounts of user information through computer cookies that track past interactions, as well as click-stream technology that tracks how a user arrives at a certain site, and what path of sites a user pursues afterwards. With this being said, price adjusting may occur based on a users’ online behavior, without their knowledge.

“These companies use data from your computer cookies, which are basically bookmarks and prices that they show you, and they will remain that price or greater as you continuously look for the lowest travel price,” Connor Jarman, sophomore in marketing, said. “Deleting your cookies and researching is the only way to find the true price of a flight and get the best price. This is not fair to the general public because most people are not aware of this practice.”

In addition to tracking users online, strategies corporations use include pricing and making price adjustments, behavioral targeting and profiling. According to Epic.org, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, companies use behavioral targeting to collect information from a number of resources to build profiles on individuals in order to sell products and sell statistics on behavior. This is typically done without notice or a choice for the individual to opt-out of the the program.

For social media users, behavioral targeting is becoming more present with the use of advertisements based on the users previous online purchases and browsing. For example, Facebook news feeds now have advertisements of things that are more personable and intriguing than in the past.

“If behavioral targeting is done correctly, you can predict exactly what the consumer will buy,” Collin Weems, sophomore in marketing, said. “By using the progressive technology we have today, we can use advanced softwares to predict what will become the ultimate best-selling product.”

According to an article on the Electric Privacy Information Center, online profiling is collected through a variety of ways which include the information from online and offline purchase data, supermarket savings cards, white pages, surveys, sweepstakes and contest entries, financial records and so forth. The center also said some companies even sell information at a “cost of only $65 per thousand names.”

Companies don’t always hide what they will do with users’ information, and post privacy policies on their websites detailing what they intend to do with collected information. Many people don’t want to take the time to read these privacy policies, though, because they can be very intimidating, long and strenuous.

According to the Pew Research Center, 52 percent of Internet users said they believe that having a privacy policy “ensures” that companies keep information completely private.

“I think there should be more privacy on the Internet, because most people don’t read the privacy policies.” Holly Audiss, sophomore in marketing and entrepreneurship, said. “I don’t think it’s fair that just because you want to use a certain service, you have to give up your rights.”

Companies use these new techniques to enhance their business in the market and cater more to customers’ needs. Being surrounded by advertisements and promotions that suit your interests could be good or bad, but either way, more entertaining and personable.

People should be more aware of the advancements in technology and how they as Internet users could be affected. Reading privacy policies, deleting online history and giving companies your information with knowledgeable consent are all actions that can be taken to improve their online shopping experience.

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