The Price of Privacy

July 17, 2013

We always talk about the need to leave no trace of your activities on the Internet. Some folks may call us a little bit paranoid, after all, what could be wrong with a site remembering you were there and clicked through to another site? Well, let us tell you.


As you know, most sites track visitors to serve advertising needs. In a perfect world, consumers benefit from this because they see an advertisement for relevant goods precisely at their time of need.

However, the real world is more like a medieval marketplace – sellers estimate your interest level while you’re asking for prices and try to sell to you for the maximum price possible.

Systems for hotel bookings and airline ticket reservations employ complicated schemes of price adjustments, which take into account a lot of information about each visitor, which is gathered via referrer tracking, search engine optimization and social network monitoring.

The most obvious implementation of this mechanism are the systems for hotel bookings and airline ticket reservations. These sites employ complicated schemes of price adjustments, which take into account a lot of information about each visitor, which is gathered via referrer tracking, search engine optimization and social network monitoring.  Based on dozens of factors, such systems completely hide some offers from specific visitors or even apply different pricing schemes. For example, when you visit a booking site from your iPad, you’ll initially see the most expensive hotels in the selected category and will need to spend some time clicking though pages to find less expensive ones. But they will be available on the first page of search results on your Windows computer.

Also such systems closely monitor user travel through different options and adjust search results in real time, i.e. when you’ve first checked airline options, considered another one and then tried to go back to the first airline – it may well be that “those tickets are unavailable now,” but more expensive tickets are still present. To avoid financial losses from such consumer monitoring, just follow our advice:

  • No rush. When sites tell you that it’s the last two hotel rooms or last ticket available, don’t hurry to click the “buy” button. They try to make your decision fast and ill-considered. Take five minutes to call specific hotels or airlines to check prices and availability. The contact phone is typically present on a booking site, and sometimes making such calls is very profitable, because hotels offer you a lower price than any online service with their “hot” deals.
  • No rush (part 2). The initial offer, when first searching your tickets, is often very compelling. But it’s not always a real offer. If you try to really buy this ticket, it may suddenly become unavailable or some airport charges might be unusually high – in the end, it may cost much more than expected. If you plan a complicated trip with multiple connections, overnight stays, etc., the system will realize that and try to benefit from knowing your intent, e.g. by proposing more expensive connecting flights. The final cost might be up to 50% higher than initially expected.
  • Don’t become the “best buyer.”  Special offers and sales are often used to sell tickets and hotel reservations that are more beneficial for booking sites. And some under promoted offers deep inside search results might be both better and cheaper. Don’t concentrate on “hot deals.” Instead, spend more time methodically exploring your options.
  • First impressions are half the battle.  In real life, others judge you first based on your looks and clothes. On the Internet, the server can easily detect where in the world you are and what device/OS you use. If you’re using a Mac or iPhone and you live in Western Europe or the U.S.A., you probably earn a lot of money and can spend a lot. Try to use a proxy server based in a “poor” country or in a country famous for calculating people (Germany works well). And use a Windows PC, preferably an older model.
  • Anonymity. Online sites spend a lot on advertising and they tend to increase consumer retention by initially showing some good offers. But if you spend some time browsing, leave the site and check back later, it probably means that you tried some other options and somehow failed – so for the second time they might offer higher prices. Use the proxy in hidden mode in your web browser each time you visit a booking site. This increases your chances of seeing a good offer again.