The tricky business of online commerce

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Ever wonder why the flight you just chose online has jumped in price by $200 in the time it took to check your email?  Or perhaps why the price you see when surfing Amazon with your iPhone is cheaper than the price you see on your computer?

It’s because your online behaviour is being tracked.  Annie Lowrey has written a great piece on the subject for Slate (Dec. 2010) called How Much Is That Doggie in the Browser Window?

If you haven’t noticed this sort of behaviour, watch for it now.  Unless you’re already taking measures to thwart this type of profiling, you will see it if you pay attention.  The most common method of achieving this is by using browser Cookies (not the kind you eat, although equally delicious for companies like Facebook and Amazon).  A great technical overview of Cookies can be found here, courtesy of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

So, how can you prevent your online shopping trends from being tracked? My current favourite tool is called Ghostery, a web browser plugin which currently supports all the browsers I use. If you’re not down with Ghostry, more options can be found in this blog post at MacLife.  Good stuff to know.

 

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