A move the UK government is set to make to curb firms from adopting disingenuous pricing tactics online is a firm reminder about the value of using a VPN to mask your identity. Government officials are examining measures to halt the ‘exploitation’ of consumers by companies, including airlines, which harvest computer data then use it to tailor prices for individual shoppers.

The plans are part of a consultation on ‘Reforming Competition and Consumer Policy’ and aim to tackle practices such as fees that are added at checkouts, forcing companies to switch to an ‘opt in’ system for subscription renewal and fairer pricing.

For instance, many companies gather large quantities of customer data and then set their prices according to the customer and the data they hold on them.
  • When you click on the ‘accept cookies button, your information is immediately handed over including the browser you are using, the device, screen resolution, how much time you spend on a page, where you click next, your cursor movements and sometimes your location.
This information, tells a website whether you are a returning user and prices can be adjusted accordingly.
  • You may have noticed yourself that if you visit a website to check prices and go back to it a few times to establish whether you want to make a purchase and then decide to buy, on your return to the website the price has increased. This is because your visits are being recorded and your interest registered.
There are also rumours that some websites bump up their prices if you are using an Apple Mac based on the assumption that Macs are more expensive than Windows laptops, £1,000 and upwards, so Mac users can afford to pay more.

There is no evidence to support this but certainly an online retailer can detect what sort of computer you are using. Airlines are notorious for changing prices according to your location, in business jargon it’s known as dynamic pricing, in ordinary terms it’s unfair.

Advantages of a VPN

The ‘Reforming Competition and Consumer Policy’ aims to put an end to ‘sharp’ practises so it will be interesting to see what recommendations it comes up with.
  • However, interestingly, by using a well-regarded virtual private network (VPN) you can evade many of these practises and also use them to benefit you.
  • A VPN enables you to connect to the internet from a server and location of your choosing. Your true location is hidden. This means that when a website collects info about you it is effectively useless because your true identity is hidden.
  • At the same time you can also shop around for the best prices by connecting to the same website from different country locations to see where you can get the best deal.