Law in Contemporary Society

Talk Page: Swindling The Seller? YMMV (Dan Bryan Second Paper)


“If you tell me I will find information about "search engines," you shouldn't just send my eyeball to one. You could have picked one for me and said so, found a list, or made one. But a link should be what it says.” -- EbenMoglen - 21 Apr 2008

Your criticisms are completely valid in this regard. I originally had more resources listed and nixed them due to space concerns. I will follow one of your suggested remedies and link to a list I created on another page. -- DanBryan - 23 May 2008


“It would have been prudent to acknowledge that there were a range of seller strategies, including both obliging and borderline fraudulent, in the retailer's bag long before the Net began overcoming buyers' collective action and information shortage problems.” -- EbenMoglen - 21 Apr 2008

I fully agree that sellers have always had a variety of strategies that they can employ. I think it is correct that the current merchant reactions I mention (namely Best Buy’s) represent the same old game through more modern means – it would be a classic bait-and-switch except that part of the ploy is now played out over the internet. I will try to make this point more explicit. -- DanBryan - 23 May 2008

The Future / Data-Mining

“The most important changes now going on concern the seller's ability to know the buyer through web surveillance, which is beginning to enable differential pricing on a behavioral prediction basis clued to the knowledge of the individual web-shopper. The immense value of data-mining the customer is just beginning to be realized, and in the near future where the buyer knows the price of the goods but the seller knows the unconscious mind of the buyer, it's the intelligence service that surveils every purchaser that holds the balance of power.” -- EbenMoglen - 21 Apr 2008

I think that data-mining represents a future concern, but I believe that it will be easy to mitigate against for those that wish to do so. At the most basic level, cleaning and restricting cookies will frustrate seller information gathering. At the more extreme, full-fledged anonymity networks (like TOR) are becoming more practical – though while I might use TOR for browsing, I would never conduct actual e-commerce over such a network due to security concerns.

As concerns about data-mining continue to grow, security software will find a niche in the area. Kaspersky’s default settings already block most commission websites (which was an initial annoyance since I like FatWallet and somewhat ironic since FatWallet told me how to get the program for free in the first place). Many anti-malware programs can also accomplish similar results. SpybotS&D (which is free) will block many tracking sites at both the browser and the hosts file levels. While all of my OS experience is with Windows, I’m sure that there are solutions for other platforms as well.

All of the above said, I’m perfectly willing to be tracked (to a limited extent) if I am compensated for it. For instance, FatWallet receives money for any purchases I make on a retail site that I linked to through them. In return, I get a portion of their commission paid to me. In doing this, FatWallet is also receiving significant information about my purchasing habits, price range, etc. Nothing prevents me from creating a new account, however, and it would be difficult to link the two if I acquired a new IP, changed my MAC, etc.

I also think that community-based sites, where people post prices, defeat individual price discrimination. A highly informed website may (correctly) judge that I am willing to pay $100 for an item, but if others post that the site sold the same item to them for $75, I would likely not buy it for $100 (relative value is important and would lower my willingness to pay). Additionally, sites like eBay would prevent the price-range from becoming too large by creating a secondary market for the goods.

The real danger may be in consumers misjudging exactly how much information is being obtained and what can be done with it. I like to think that there would not be enough data to predict my purchasing habits to any significant extent, but I do not have access to such databases or the algorithms that are being run against them. It does occasionally worry me when I think about how much information Google alone has likely collected on me. They (if I can call Google “they” instead of “it”) own one of my primary email accounts, Gmail, which is clearly searched and used to drive advertisements. GTalk (which archives all conversations on remote servers by default) is fast becoming my most utilized chat program. They know where I live from Google Earth (I labeled my apartment's location as “home”). They have all my search history spanning years (I could change my IP but it has been static for a long time and a new address would be linked to old addresses via GTalk and GMail). I’ve been experimenting with Grand Central, so they have an idea of who calls me. Google Product Search tracks what I’m interested in buying, and I often use Google Check Out for purchases (they have been offering discounts as of late), which gives them access to my name, address, and credit card. I’ll leave it to others to decide if this is a case of “Don’t Be Evil” or “Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely.” -- DanBryan - 23 May 2008

Regarding my paper, the opportunity for data-mining is an incentive for merchants to cooperate with the "deal" sites I am discussing, and a potential negative for the potential consumers who participate in such communities. The subject of data-mining could easily be its own paper, so I will attempt to only address the points that directly relate to my current topic. -- DanBryan - 23 May 2008



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r6 - 03 Feb 2010 - 14:09:38 - AlexAsen
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