It’s 2019 and by now everyone should know that companies are serving you personalised ads based on your search history.

What many people aren’t aware of is that companies are now starting to charge personalised or “dynamic” prices based on your online footprint. What does that mean? Prices are being manipulated to maximise the price that YOU (yes, you) will pay for for their product or services.

This means you could be sitting next to someone, looking at the exact same product online, and be charged more or less than them depending on a website you visited.


But you’ve known about this for a long time – if you’ve ever bought an airline ticket, this practice has been going on for a long time. Think it’s all in your head? Check out Google’s ITA QPX Software which provides solutions to airlines to price “by market segment, point-of-sale, channel and even user.”

Profit is then determined based on website tracking. The airline (or retailer) decided in advance how much profit margin to apply based on your online habits.

At least you knew about it with airlines (or at least had a sneaking suspicion). It’s long been used as a tactic in other industries with The Wall Street Journal running a study on the matter in 2012!

How can you get around dynamic pricing?

Clear your browser cookies then try shopping for a price again.

Check out this experiment from HuffPost writer, Arwa Mahdawi

British Airways “dynamic” pricing on right: price when browsing with cookies enabled on left: price when looking in incognito mode

In 2014, a US regulator approved an industry-wide system, the implementation of which started only recently, that allows airlines and travel agencies to collect personal data – information such as marital status, address and travel history – and use that data to offer you “more agile pricing and more personalised offerings”.

So, if an airline can see that you live in a fancy neighbourhood and regularly fly business-class, it may offer you a higher fare than it would someone whom it believes is more price-sensitive. As technology grows more sophisticated, companies may be able to serve you higher prices based on factors such as your emotional state.

This isn’t a practice that’s unique to online though. In Finland, speeding tickets are linked to income, a system known as progressive punishment.

What next?

It’s not all rosy out there in Internet land and being safe is not just about thinking about what you’re clicking on. The places you visit online, your physical location and everything you’ve given away to (or can be inferred by) the online giants will all be used against you (although they will argue that your data will be used FOR you).

And maybe that’s ok. We use these products for free upfront and pay for it down the track. Nobody really knows what the long term impact of all of this means for the individual, however one thing we can be sure of: the big digital companies own our personal data and will keep profiting off it until something disrupts them.

If you’re interested in private internet searching, check out DuckDuckGo. Also check out ProtonMail for private emails. If you want to learn about deleting your Google history, check this article out.