Orbitz Serving Higher End Offers to Users on Macs, Lower Class Offers to Those on PCs

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Mac users have found themselves on the receiving end of a special sort of profiling: class profiling. By tracking what browser an Orbitz user used to visit the Orbitz site, Orbitz was able to determine the spending habits of those who were using Macs, and compare them to the spending habits of those who use a Windows PC machine. And what Orbitz found was that, on average, Mac users spend as much as $30.00 a night more on hotels.

According to Orbitz CTO Roger Liew, they had a hunch that this was the case, and so they mined their data to confirm it. “We had the intuition, and we were able to confirm it based on the data,” said Liew.

So, Orbitz has started serving up different options for those visiting Orbitz on a Mac than they do for those using the site from a PC.

According to Wai Gen Yee, Orbitz’ chief scientist, Mac users are much more likely to book a four-star or five-star hotel – in fact 40% more likely. And even when they reserve a room at the same hotel as their PC brethern, Mac users are more likely to stay in the more expensive rooms offered at that hotel.

And so, figures Orbitz, why not offer Mac users more expensive options right off the bat?

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The Wall Street Journal, in an expose of the practice, confirmed that they had different results, depending on whether they were using a Mac or a PC (at the same time, with the same search), when looking at hotel rates in some, but not all, cities. Cities in which they were able to produce the different results included Miami Beach, and Baton Rouge, while results were the same for both Mac and PC searches for Las Vegas, Orlando, and Boston.

To be clear, Orbitz is not serving up different prices for the same rooms with the same amenities. Rather, if they detect that a user is on a Mac, they are serving up more expensive hotels, or more expensive rooms in various hotels, and serving them up near the top of the page, with less expensive hotels and options further down on the page.

So how is Orbitz able to determine what sort of computer you are using? It’s done very simply, and nearly every site you visit is grabbing and logging the same data, although using it to profile and market to customers is a fairly new use of it.

When you visit a website, the site makes a note of several things about you which it logs to a log file, including the IP address through which you are connected to the Internet, and your “user agent”, which is a geeky way of saying “what browser you are using”. The entry in a log that shows your user agent is known as the “user agent string”.

The typical Mac user using, say, Firefox, will show up in the visited site’s logs with a user agent string something like this:

“Mozilla/5.0 (Macintosh; Intel Mac OS X 10.7; rv:8.0.1) Gecko/20100101 Firefox/8.0.1”

Whereas a user agent string of, say, “Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 5.00; Windows 98)” would tell anyone reading it that the computer was a Windows computer. (‘MSIE’ standing for Microsoft Internet Explorer.)

Of course, generally speaking, humans aren’t manually reviewing the connection logs. Rather they are being data-mined by computer scripts and analytic programs.

If this sort of profiling bothers you, whether you are on a Mac or a PC, there is something you can do about it. You can change your user agent string. Most browsers these days either have a built-in user agent switcher, or have add-ons that you can install to accomplish the same thing.

For example, in current versions of Safari, you can change your user agent from the ‘Develop’ menu:




While with Firefox, you can download an add-on called User Agent Switcher:




You can download User Agent Switcher for Firefox here.


If you are using Internet Explorer, things get a bit more complicated. You can find instructions for Internet Explorer (at least version 8) here.

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