When it was announced this week that retail leviathan Amazon would be acquiring the Whole Foods grocery chain, many privacy advocates were quick to call foul.
Amazon, who can be likened to the “Facebook” of shopping, holds a massive, nearly unbelievable grip on the way that Americans do their shopping. Through the continued expansion of their Amazon Prime program, which makes regular household items a click away, the retailers hope is that they can fundamentally change the way that Americans do their everyday shopping, cutting out trips to the local mom-and-pop grocery and hardware stores in exchange for lazy clicking on a laptop. The addition of Whole Foods to this equation simply creates a stronger foothold for the gargantuan online retailer.
Now, new reports show that Amazon is working to not only force you into shopping through them, but they are also intercepting your personal internet location data to ensure that you see the prices that they want you to see.
“Following the announcement of Amazon’s massive bid to buy the Whole Foods grocery chain, the Washington Post reports that the company has patented an algorithm that’s designed to discourage ‘mobile window shopping.’ Customers’ habit of visiting stores like Borders and checking the Amazon prices while they browse is understood to have played a major factor in Amazon’s competitive victories over the last decade, so it’s beginning to take measures to ensure that it doesn’t suffer the same fate.“The algorithm isn’t going to prevent a dedicated customer from checking out other retailers on their phones… for now. All it does is make it more difficult for any shoppers who are on the store’s wifi. The “Physical Store Online Shopping Control” patent analyzes the mobile browsing of the customer and if it determines that they are visiting a competitor’s website it will redirect them in one of a few ways. From the report:
“‘It may block access to the competitor’s site, preventing customers from viewing comparable products from rivals. It might redirect the customer to Amazon’s own site or to other, Amazon-approved sites. It might notify an Amazon salesperson to approach the customer. Or it might send the customer’s smartphone a text message, coupon or other information designed to lure the person back into Amazon’s orbit. ‘
“This isn’t a five-alarm fire warning of impending dystopia but it should give everyone pause at a crucial moment in Amazon’s history. Most analysts who covered the Whole Foods deal yesterday understood that it likely signals a huge expansion of the company’s ambitious delivery plans. The New York Times’ outlook was a little more granular in its outlook, saying that Bezos and co. are always looking for a place to experiment with what works. Amazon is gradually pulling everyone deeper into its eco-system and playing around with throttling customer’s mobile browsing is not the greatest omen.”
Moves such as this undermine the very freedom of American privacy, let alone create a nightmare for lawyers well versed in the Sherman anti-trust laws.
Amazon’s dedication to the domination of the American marketplace is terrifying enough on its own. When you factor in their ability to employ and deploy such Big Brother-style tactics to ensure their place on top of the retail heap, things become downright spooky.