Like many people today, I buy stuff online. And while price is important, sometimes convenience trumps price. Time is money, right? Or, perhaps I’m just being lazy. Regardless, I wonder occasionally if I’m really getting the best deal available. After reading an article recently in The Atlantic magazine, I’m more skeptical about whether I’m getting a good price, or getting taken for a ride.

Companies such as Amazon, Facebook, Google and others employ dozens of economists, data scientists and other “quantitative” scientists to help tweak their models–not necessarily for your benefit. Every scrap of data is gathered and analyzed, often with the intention of squeezing more cents out of your dollars.

They track and analyze your every move on the internet. What did you search for? How long did you search? How much time did you spend on a website page? What did you click on? Did you buy right away, or wait? How many times did you revisit the site for more information?

They’re studying a fascinating subject–you. It’s a little creepy, but that’s the tradeoff in today’s online world. You get convenience but leave a data trail of breadcrumbs, give up some privacy, and occasionally probably pay more than you otherwise would.

It happens, it’s deceptive, and they’ll never admit to it. It’s a battle, and you and I are not sufficiently armed.

This type of analysis traditionally was confined to airline fares, hotel rooms and a few other prices that would vary depending on the time of year, day of the week, etc. Now, it has been extended into everyday transactions and web queries, which allows companies to peer into human behavior more widely and deeply.

What can we do about this? It’s a challenge, as the technologies get smarter by the day. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data–it’s all coming to get us! In the name of convenience and rapid delivery times. We might choose to go along to get what we want from this arrangement but I feel we all should at the bare minimum be aware of the terms we have unwittingly agreed to, buried in the fine print.

This post has been excerpted from a recent issue of The Triad Perspective.

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