Tech

A.I. Is Not What You Think

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“I keep seeing ads for these browser add-ons like Honey (from PayPal) and Capital One Shopping,” she wrote. “They claim they will automatically find and apply promo codes to save you money whenever you shop online. This sounds terrific, but I keep wondering, What’s in it for them? They’re not just doing this out of the goodness of their hearts. Before I sign up for these services, I want to know what the trade-off is. Can you help me find out?”

Brian X. Chen, the New York Times personal technology columnist, has this response:

Yes, there is always a trade-off. With free software, your personal data is often part of the transaction.

I’d advise taking a few minutes to research the company’s business model and privacy policy.

More than a year ago, Amazon warned customers to remove the Honey add-on because of privacy concerns. Honey’s privacy policy states: “Honey does not track your search engine history, emails or your browsing on any site that is not a retail website (a site where you can shop and make a purchase).”

Read between the lines: That means Honey can track your browsing on retail websites. (Honey has said that it uses data only in ways that people expect.)

The privacy policy for Capital One Shopping is more explicit: “If you download and use our browser extension, we may collect browsing, product and e-commerce information, including but not limited to product pages viewed, pricing information, location data, purchase history on various merchant websites and services, the price you paid for items, whether a purchase was made, and the coupons that you used.”

That’s a lot of information to hand over for software that automatically applies coupons. Whether or not that’s a fair trade is up to you.

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