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Online shopping for Christmas is likely to be very different in the not too distant future. While today we use search engines for information, in the years ahead we will increasingly rely on digital personal assistants, voice-activated digital helpers and our smart phones. These digital helpers will aid our shopping experience and reduce our search time. But these benefits may come at a cost.

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New research by law professors at the University of Oxford and University of Tennessee carries a warning about these seemingly helpful shoppers. In their new book, Virtual Competition: The Promise and Perils of the Algorithm-Driven Economy, Professor Ariel Ezrachi, an expert in EU competition law, and Maurice E Stucke, an expert in US anti-trust law, examine the welfare implications of our increasing reliance on online shopping and online platforms, and the way they may be used to distort competition and lead to price discrimination.

In their research, Ezrachi and Stucke explore the rise of personal digital helpers and how they may change the dynamics of competition, so our privacy and our ability to identify true competitive prices become a thing of the past. Online shopping is becoming an increasingly personalised experience, which the authors argue increases the risk of a biased, distorted environment in which we, as users, are manipulated. Such an environment can pave the way for behavioural discrimination, meaning it enables sellers to induce us to buy things at the highest price we are willing to pay, says the book.

Read more on the University website (opens new window)