‘Spy software’ that charges online shoppers more

online shopping

online shoppingShould shoppers be charged more if they are using an Apple Mac or iPad and visiting higher end websites? Or less if they’re using an old computer?

Claims that special ‘spy software’ is being used to track the wealth of customers are currently being investigated by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT).

Although only anecdotal evidence has been found so far, it certainly is technically possible for companies to change their prices according to our online behaviour.

Sophisticated software can analyse what websites you have been visiting, giving retailers a real insight into your preferences. Sophisticated software is said to be used to raise prices so they can better manage time and detects shoppers are “emotionally committed” to a purchase.

So say you were having a serious look at flight prices for your dream holiday. The flight price website might detect that you’ve also been looking at hotel sites – and so can tell that you’re a ‘committed’ buyer, rather than just casually browsing. So it bumps up the flight prices accordingly, as it knows you’re definitely looking to buy.

It doesn’t stop there, as the ‘personalised pricing’ software can also see what type of computer, laptop or tablet device you’re using and where. So if you’re using a snazzy iPad to shop online, you may get charged more than someone using an old banger of a PC.

It’s a sobering thought for many online shoppers.

Amazon was known to attempt personalised pricing back in 2000, but it soon backed down after customers complained.

Of course businesses use information about us shoppers for marketing purposes, and it can have potential benefits to both the consumer and companies – but the scary thing is the rapid evolution of the way data is collected and used.

Clive Maxwell, chief executive of the OFT, said: “It is important that we understand what control shoppers have over their profile and whether firms are using shoppers’ profiles to charge different prices for goods or services.”

The OFT are taking these allegations seriously and have really got out the big guns – consulting with top regulators (including the US Federal Trade commission) with findings planned to publish in spring next year.

Discussing this issue in MyFamilyClub HQ, we discovered that many of us have found a price fluctuation when looking at the same product on a different computer.

If you’re suspicious about an online price change, try clearing the ‘cookies’ on your web browser. (Cookies are tiny files that websites put on your computer to keep track of you as a visitor.) Click here how to delete cookies here.

Have you ever experienced something suspicious price changes online? Leave your comments below or tweet us @MyFamilyClub.