Algorithms gouge online buyers

smartphone-shoppingA study by a team of researchers at the Northeastern University have discovered that online shops target people based on their profiles and charge some more than others for the same products.

The team said that people regularly receive personalised content, such as specific offers from Amazon.  That, the study shows, can be to a person’s advantage but e-commerce sites manipulate search results and customise prices without anyone knowing.

The researchers looked at 16 popular e-commerce sites, including 10 general shops and six hotel and car rental sites,to measure price discrimination and price steering.

“We have found numerous instances of price steering and discrimination on a variety of top e-commerce site,” they said in a report.

Some sites altered prices by hundreds of dollars and travel sites showed inconsistencies in a higher percentage of cases.

They said Expedia and hotels,com “steered a subset of users towards more expensive hotels”.

The team said that price differences were significant in some of the cases. Amazon and Ebay were excluded from the study and so too were firms like Apple.

Although the researchers said they contacted the sites they surveyed, they did not say how or if the companies replied.