Why do corporations want your personal data? The simple answer, according to Andrew Odlyzko, the director of the University of Minnesota's Digital Technology Center, is that such information is the key to a holy grail of capitalism: discriminatory pricing. Economic theory posits that price discrimination -- where companies charge individuals based on their ability to pay and their value as a customer -- is desirable since it makes trade more efficient. Yet it rankles consumers, who perceive differential pricing as unfair. The fact that business travelers, whose corporations can arguably afford it, pay more for airline seats than a vacationer has made air travel more popular and routine. At the same time, the price discrimination that charges two people different prices for the same class of service infuriates those who pay more.Link to Odlyzko's paper, Link to BW story, Discuss, (Thanks, ESC)
In a paper to be presented at the Fifth Annual Conference on E-Commerce this fall, Odlyzko, a Bell Labs researcher for 26 years, doesn't argue for or against discriminatory pricing. He focuses on how technology can bring it to new levels of sophistication and prevalence.