Now in France there is a flurry of articles about how websites for airlines and train companies are tracking your IP address to raise the prices if you were to come back. And, of course, they all give practical advices to the poor reader so they don’t get scammed. There are several things in those articles that had my bells ringing.
- most of them are referring to an article somewhere else
- some of them have anecdotal evidences coming from “witnesses”
- no one has even an anonymous tip from a software developer who confirms the practice
- no one actually tested it in controlled conditions
- once contacted, European companies deny the practice but say it happens in other countries, especially in Asia
So I decided I would do my own experiment. During the course of today, I went several times to AirAsia.com, AirFrance.fr and QatarAirways.com. Each time I:
- Check my IP address (for that I go to Google.com and type “what’s my ip” in the search bar), to make sure it’s always the same
- Search for a flight. Different flights for each company but always the same origin and destination, at the same dates
- Then I take a screenshot.
I insert my screenshots down there for you to make your own mind but my conclusion is that this is all bullshit. Something the media are doing to get more attention pretending they care about consumers where actually they are misleading their readers on the very thing they should get right, information.
Only one online publication has it right, in France, and that is “Arrêt sur image”, with an article titled “AVIONS, TRAINS, HÔTELS : SE FAIT-ON FLOUER EN ACHETANT NOS BILLETS SUR INTERNET ? L’IP tracking, entre mythe et réalité” (in French).
UPDATE: Since I had slightly different prices on AF, I went back there and tried again. I got the same prices than last time so I opened my VPN (ProXPN for those interested) and tried again from an US-based IP, using Chrome incognito browsing (in case they are using cookies too). And I got the exact same results (screenshots below).