First cab off the rank is London based law firm Olswang representing 12 UK Apple users suing Google for deliberately circumventing privacy features in Apple’s Safari browser. There is no suggestion Google did anything untoward with the information they received.
Before you think it is an easy way to make a quick buck Google’s transgression related only to circumventing Apple’s Safari browser by placing cookies on PC’s, Macs, iPads/phones and any other devices using the browser.
Cookies in themselves can be fairly harmless – at best they simply remember that you have visited a site or may help you to navigate through it. At worst they can give the cookie maker a range of information they probably should not have.
Anecdotal reports of cookie abuse are widespread. In 2000 Amazon ran afoul of its users when accused that its cookies helped the company charge loyal, repeat users more for books. Last year hotel booking site Orbitz allegedly used cookies to charge Mac users up to 30% higher rooms rates or steer them to more pricey superior rooms “because as a richer demographic they could afford it”. Ryanair was accused of [upwards] price manipulation for frequent users. Then there is the rumour that using a mobile device to find pricing from various on-line “pricing services” will lead to increased pricing if only to give brick and mortar stores a better chance.
Euphemistically called “personalised pricing” but really more “differential pricing” this dodgy variable pricing practice is now under investigation by the UK Office of Fair Trading and their counterparts in the US and we suspect anywhere that wants to have a shot at Google. Price discrimination, at least in the USA is not illegal as long as you do not charge more than the recommended advertised price and do not discriminate on race, sex, national origin or religion but there is no mention of discrimination against Mac users...
Consumers must assume that all on-line sites are starting to manipulate prices. Don’t think this is simple scare mongering – see Click here for a real, live and recent study.
Companies are doing this to make more money. According to purveyors of such “loyalty” software it “typically yields two to four times as much revenue [as standard pricing]”. Another company mentions the potential to link user’s social media sites into their customer profiling experience to be able to offer customised offers and pricing based on not only quintile and locational demographics but social media demographics such as holiday habits and family size/age.
The real issue is the potential for harm and the PR spin “Anything that improves the user experience is good” just does not cut it.
I would be very concerned at the mobile smart phone practice of defaulting to using “locational” data in searches creeping now into desktop operating systems and the potential to charge wealthy demographics more for the privilege of shopping.
What can you do to avoid this?
Paranoia is healthy. Simply turning off locational services is a start:
• On mobiles search for “turn off locational setting [insert Android, iOS or Windows Mobile/Phone]. They could be under Time Zone or in the Browser settings. Once done look for delete cookies and set "reject cookies for sites".
• Windows 8 - See instructions here - go to Control Panel, Location Settings and untick any relevant boxes.
• Mac – See instructions here. Under Date and Time – untick “Set time zone automatically using current location” and under Security and Privacy untick Location services and disable any Apps that determine your location.
• Safari browser – Reset Safari from the menu enabling only reset all location warnings” and under Privacy remove all Website data and Block cookies always.
• Internet Explorer – Internet settings, Privacy, Tick never allow websites to request your physical location
• Chrome, Firefox etc - See instructions here
Once you have turned off settings run a cookie cleaner. Use the free CCleaner for Mac and Windows from Piriform