Online personalized content ranging from Google search results to product recommendations on Amazon are possible through algorithms that generate results based on users' profiles and past activity. However, the use of such big data can be both beneficial and detrimental to users, according to a study by Northeastern University researchers.
The study examined 16 popular e-commerce sites (10 general retailers and six hotel and car rental sites) to measure price discrimination and price steering. The team found evidence of personalization on four general retailers and five travel sites, including cases in which the sites altered prices by hundreds of dollars.
Overall, travel sites showed price inconsistencies in a higher percentage of cases, relative to the controls. For example, users who clicked on or reserved low-priced hotel rooms received slightly different results in a different order compared with users who clicked on or reserved expensive hotel rooms or clicked on nothing. However, the different orders did not correlate to prices, so this was not deemed price steering.
Study co-author Christo Wilson notes the algorithms used by the sites change constantly. "Good advice today might not be good advice tomorrow," Wilson says. "The point is that as a consumer, you're at a disadvantage unless it's transparent."
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Abstracts Copyright © 2014 Information Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, USA
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