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Amazon Could Block In-Store Price Comparisons

A patent purchased by Amazon may pose potential privacy issues. Named, "Physical Store Online Shopping Control," this technology has the capability to track shoppers within their brick-and-mortar stores.

If shoppers connect through the store's wifi networks, this new system can track their online activity and interfere with it. This prevents shoppers from what has been labeled as "mobile window shopping," where customers use their smartphones to compare product prices as they walk around the store. The system is also able to track and monitor the shopper's network and detect their location within the establishment.

If a shopper decides to search online for similar products, an algorithm would detect the traffic and attempt to override the results. One of the following could be executed: it could block access to a competitor's websites, which prevents customers from viewing similar products; redirect customers back to Amazon's own website or other Amazon-approved websites; send a notification to a salesperson to approach the customer; or it could send customers' smartphones a text message or other notifications designed to entice them back.

This new patent becomes even more significant when you consider that Amazon has been expanding its physical presence. With over half a dozen brick-and-mortar bookstores and their recent purchase of supermarket chain Whole Foods, the company will eventually end up controlling over 470 retail establishments. This gives Amazon enormous incentive in ensuring that their customers won't be looking elsewhere while inside their stores.

Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, said that regulators should be on the lookout for potentially anti-competitive behavior. "Amazon has created a largely stealth Big Data digital apparatus that has not gotten the scrutiny it requires," he added.

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