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MEPs calling European Commission to stop IP-tracking

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Staff writer ▼ | September 9, 2013
Members of the European Parliament have called on the European Commission to protect consumers' privacy and personal data online by regulating the IP-tracking systems of some commercial internet sites.
IP-tracking
IP-trackingMembers of the European Parliament have called on the European Commission to protect consumers' privacy and personal data online by regulating the IP-tracking systems of some commercial internet sites.


Brussels has so far abstained from that move but might be forced to reconsider given the mood in some member states.

Holidaymakers looking for cheap flights abroad over the weekend may have noticed that on some websites, the prices tend to go up at each visit. One, perfectly legal, explanation is that there are fewer seats available. But that is not always the case, reports EurActiv.

As French daily Le Monde's consumers' protection blog SOS Conso showed back in January, there was another much more controversial method of pumping up the prices artificially, called IP-tracking.

When a website using this practice offers you a certain price, it simultaneously records your search as well as the IP address from which the search was conducted. If you did not buy your plane ticket immediately, on your next visit, the website offers you a slightly more expensive price at each one of your searches.

The more you search, the higher the amount, until you give in and buy. The price increases even though there are just as many seats available.

According to estimates, around 300 million users are potential victims of such practices across Europe.

MEPs from different political parties and countries have already raised the question with the EU's justice commissioner, Viviane Reding, since Le Monde's revelations. The Commission answered that the issue was in the hands of national authorities but that "the clients should be informed about the processing".

This week, a Belgian MEP, Marc Tarabella (Socialists & Democrats), put the issue back on the table. He alerted the Belgian media about what he saw as an illegal practice, though there was a legal loophole in most member states.

As well as tracking a user's searches on their own website, Tarabella was shocked by another industry practice.

"Moreover, these companies record which other websites the consumer visited in order to sketch his profile. If he visited luxurious websites under the same IP-address, it can influence the price offered", Mr. Tarabella told EurActiv in an interview.

No specific companies were mentioned, but some suggest that low-cost airlines might be the most likely to use IP-tracking methods. Air France denied accusations in February. "In no way, do our company's algorithms use IP-tracking," it said in a statement.

The European Commission has not received Tarabella's parliamentary question yet, and was only able to repeat what it already said in the past – that it is a matter for the national authorities, says EurActiv.


 

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