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Internet retailers asked to contribute to OFT probe into online personalised prices

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The UK’s Office of Fair Trading wants to hear from online retailers as it examines the way that businesses monitor online shoppers and target them with personalised prices. It has issued a call for information as it looks into the market over the next six months before deciding if it needs to take action.

The OFT says the exercise is part of a drive to build trust in ecommerce. It wants to know how businesses including online retailers use the information they gain by monitoring consumer behaviour online, and whether they change the prices offered to individual shoppers as a result. Among the issues it will look at is whether consumers understand how their information is used, and whether they are being treated unfairly in law as a result.

The body will consult international counterparts, including the US Federal Trade Commission, during the course of its investigation.

“Innovation online is an important driver of economic growth,” said OFT chief executive Clive Maxwell. “Our call for information forms part of our ongoing commitment to build trust in online shopping so that consumers can be confident that businesses are treating them fairly.

“We know that businesses use information about individual consumers for marketing purposes. This has some important potential benefits to consumers and firms. But the ways in which data is collected and used is evolving rapidly. It is important we understand what control shoppers have over their profile and whether firms are using shoppers’ profiles to charge different prices for goods or services.

“This call for information will help us understand these practices better and to decide whether or not this is an issue on which the OFT needs to take any action.”

The OFT information-gathering exercise will run over the next six months before a report is published next Spring. More information is available on its website.

The move follows an OFT report, Online Targeting of Advertising and Prices, published in May 2010, when the OFT said it would keep a watching brief on this area as technology developed.

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