Another Idea, Free For the Taking

(Whoa. Been a while. But then, traffic's been up since I've been gone. Maybe I should take that as a sign...just not now...)

Via Division of Labour I saw this odd article at FindLaw.

According to a recent study, many consumers are unaware that price discrimination occurs over the Internet. But apparently, it does.

The Internet allows shoppers to easily compare prices across thousands of stores. But it also enables businesses to collect detailed information about a customer's purchasing history, preferences, and financial resources -- and to set prices accordingly.

So when you buy an airplane ticket or a DVD online, you may pay a higher - or lower - price than another customer buying the very same item from the very same site.

I can't claim to be someone who is shocked at the notion of price discrimination. In fact, I tend to think a free-wheeling allowance for such things would do a world of good in a lot of cases. (To wit: weight is the single biggest factor in determining how much fuel an airplane uses, which in turn is one of -- along with wages -- the biggest determinants of the cost of operation. Imagine how much better off we'd all be if airlines charged tickets according to combined passenger weight. Not just you, but the luggage you bring as well. Lighter loads, less fuel use, lower ticket prices. The marginal person isn't decisive between one flight being profitable and one not, but the aggregate benefits could be considerable, and worth spreading out over all the passengers.)

The article at FindLaw strikes me as yet another example of knee-jerk "My God, there ougtta be a law!" reactions so popular when someone encounters something that doesn't satisfy their desire for everything everywhere to be totally blind to the existence of differences between people. But it is decently written.

Even if you find such things distasteful, there really is no need for regulation. In fact, this would seem to be a great new opportunity for people with dramatically better programming skills than I. Why not simply start writing programs that alter the contents of Cookies to match whatever characteristics go along with the lowest possible prices? I can imagine small programs that scour databases (wiki?) of data on commerce sites and take whatever people report as displaying lower prices during shopping. Places like MajorGeeks and SnapFiles have gigs of programs designed to wipe out cookies from your machine. Why not put them to a little more work?

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This page contains a single entry by published on June 23, 2005 9:49 AM.

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