Price discrimination, setting the price of a given product for each customer individually according to his valuation for it, can benefit from extensive information collected online on the customers and thus contribute to the profitability of e-commerce services. Another way to discriminate among customers with different willingness to pay is to steer them towards different sets of products when they search within a product category (i.e., search discrimination). Our main contribution in this paper is to empirically demonstrate the existence of signs of both price and search discrimination on the Internet, and to uncover the information vectors used to facilitate them. Supported by our findings, we outline the design of a large-scale, distributed watchdog system that allows users to detect discriminatory practices.
It was the same Swingline stapler, on the same Staples.com website. But for Kim Wamble, the price was $15.79, while the price on Trude Frizzell’s screen, just a few miles away, was $14.29.A key difference: where Staples seemed to think they were located.A Wall Street Journal investigation found that the Staples Inc. website displays different prices to people after estimating their locations. More than that, Staples appeared to consider the person’s distance from a rival brick-and-mortar store, either OfficeMax Inc. or Office Depot Inc. If rival stores were within 20 miles or so, Staples.com usually showed a discounted price.What Price Would You See?ENLARGEDigits How the Journal Tested Prices and Deals Online”How can they get away with that?” said Ms. Frizzell, who works in Bergheim, Texas.