The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has released a new research paper on online algorithms and how they can reduce competition and harm consumers.
Specifically, it looks at how companies are tracking and collecting our data to build profiles of our persona and how they could then use this information to augment our online experiences, and manipulate the prices we pay, often without us realising it.
Most of it is quite dry but the anecdotes are particularly interesting.
For example, it cites a 2016 NPR interview with Keith Chen, Uber’s head of economic research, where he revealed that “people are more likely to pay for surge if their cell phone is almost out of battery”.
Uber says it doesn’t use that information to set prices, mind, but it certainly offers food for thought on what unscrupulous companies could get up to.
The same information that’s used to set prices could also foster discrimination if left unchecked.
The CMA highlighted research papers that looked at whether freelancers using online marketplaces such as TaskRabbit and Fiverr had fewer favourable reviews because of their gender or race and whether hosts of a certain demographic made less money than others on Airbnb.
While the CMA’s objective in the long run is to identify problematic algorithms and look at whether and how they might be policed, doesn’t it make you wonder whether you should regularly shop in incognito mode or think about readjusting your privacy settings?