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Study: Online Price Discrimination Is Real

BOSTON (CBS) -- A startling new study from Northeastern University concludes that price discrimination online does exist.

Researchers found the price quoted on some retail and travel websites could differ depending on your internet search history and the device you're searching on.

They discovered websites like Travelocity and Home Depot sometimes gave different results to different customers, even if they used the exact same search terms.

Real users were quoted $633 a night for one hotel in Paris. But the researchers created fake user accounts, controlling features like cookies, the operating system, browser and purchase history.

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Price seen by real users in a Northeastern study. (Photo credit Northeastern University)

The fake accounts received a quote of $565 per night. That's a difference of nearly $70.

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Price seen by fake users in a Northeastern University study. (Photo credit Northeastern University)

Local consumer advocate Edward Dworsky says this is all about data that search engines collect.

"Some say it's part of big data, that they have a profile of people that they are marketing to and they are going to try and hit the sweet spot and offer you a product at the price they think you're going to buy," he said.


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