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Do Firefox Users Pay More For Car Loans? 371

RandyOo writes "Someone wrote in to The Consumerist to report an interesting discovery: while shopping online for a car loan, Capital One offered him different rates, depending on the browser he used! Firefox yielded the highest rate at 3.5%, Opera took second place with 3.1%, Safari was only 2.7%, and finally, Google's Chrome browser afforded him the best rate of all: 2.3%! A commenter on the article claims to have been previously employed by Capital One, and writes: If you model the risk and revenue of applicants, the type of browser shows up as a significant variable. Browsers do predict an account's performance to some degree, and it will affect the rates you will view. It isn't a marketing test. I was still a bit dubious, but at least one of her previous comments backs up her claims to have worked for a credit card company. Considering the outcry after it was discovered that Amazon was experimenting with variable pricing a few years back, it seems surprising that consumers would be punished (or rewarded), based solely on the browser they happen to be using at the time!"
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Do Firefox Users Pay More For Car Loans?

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  • I wonder (Score:4, Interesting)

    by amundb ( 1830912 ) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @09:25AM (#34123378)
    What the interest rate for IE was?
    • Re:I wonder (Score:5, Funny)

      by Tobenisstinky ( 853306 ) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @09:26AM (#34123396)

      Obviously it would be high as the user would be a risk taker!

      • by sorak ( 246725 )

        Obviously it would be high as the user would be a risk taker!

        Or because using IE indicates that you don't really shop around.

      • by AliasMarlowe ( 1042386 ) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @01:28PM (#34126518) Journal
        I don't have any version of IE, but do have a few browsers installed on Ubuntu 10.04 amd64. FWIW, my IP resolves to somewhere in Finland. Here are the rates offered:
        Opera 10.63 = 3.50% new cars, 5.09% used
        Konqueror 4.4.2 = 3.50% new cars, 5.09% used
        Firefox 3.6.12 = 3.10% new cars, 4.49% used
        Chromium 9.0.568 = 2.70% new cars, 4.09% used
        Epiphany browser 2.30.2 = 2.70% new cars, 4.09% used
        Hitting refresh did not change the rates offered, even if all cookies were deleted.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by kenrblan ( 1388237 )
      I would expect it to be higher because there is a good chance the person using IE is doing so on a computer at work without any other option. Thus, they can afford to be screwed since they have a job. The other case is that they are oblivious to danger and can be easily lead, making them an excellent mark.

      Note: I am not saying these are my personal beliefs on the matter, just the possible reasoning in play.
      • Re:I wonder (Score:4, Interesting)

        by 91degrees ( 207121 ) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @09:43AM (#34123572) Journal
        Insurance companies don't worry themselves about indirct causation. They're just concerned with established correlation. If they find that statistically 5'6" tall people are a better credit risk than 6'2" then they'll ask for your height when you apply.

        A curious aspect of this is that by adding my mother to my car insurance, my premium went down, even though my usage of the car isn't going to change and the risk remains the same, because statistically men who have a woman on their insurance are less likely to have an accident.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Hognoxious ( 631665 )

          They're just concerned with established correlation. If they find that statistically 5'6" tall people are a better credit risk than 6'2" then they'll ask for your height when you apply.

          Exactly. Even if you're the most financially prudent giant on Earth, if they're dealing with thousands of people they'll gain overall by betting the way the correlation lies.

        • by v1 ( 525388 )

          It's just like any other risk assessment on the planet. When they have access to a monstrous amount of data, even the most obscure, apparently completely unrelated facts can cause a change in their statistics. They don't have to justify them. They don't even have to claim to have any understanding of them, they just look at the numbers which do not lie, and trust them and set their rates accordingly.

          I'd be surprised if they weren't doing this, it'd be bad business. And in a business where you're handing

        • And not actual rate differences. Remember that nothing they list there is anything but marketing. Your rate isn't your rate until you actually apply. A number on a website is just promotion/information. It isn't a binding offer of any kind. They'd need a credit check at the very least before they'd be willing to make an actual offer.

          Now, as you said, the one and only concern with loans is established risk. What factors (that they are legally allowed to consider) increase or decrease risk? All they are inter

    • Re:I wonder (Score:5, Informative)

      by Rary ( 566291 ) * on Thursday November 04, 2010 @09:49AM (#34123654)

      What the interest rate for IE was?

      I just tried this with the three browsers I currently have installed. Firefox and Chrome both offered me 3.50%, while IE8 offered me 2.30%. Firefox also used a completely different style sheet than both IE8 and Chrome.

      • by AVee ( 557523 )
        Those numbers are different from the ones in the article. So it's not (just) the browser which is making the difference. Perhaps the rates are just random to give you that good old 'Wow, that's even beter' feeling. Or maybe they are using al sorts of other information the browsers might leak, your default browser for instance is more likely to have that advertising cookie they use to identify you.
        • Re:I wonder (Score:4, Informative)

          by jittles ( 1613415 ) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @10:15AM (#34123936)
          Such as the location that they are able to resolve via your IP address? I bet that has a huge effect on the rates they provide.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Rary ( 566291 ) *

            Such as the location that they are able to resolve via your IP address? I bet that has a huge effect on the rates they provide.

            Actually, they ask for a ZIP code, which they use to determine rates. I entered 90210 in all three browsers, because I actually live in Canada and am not eligible for any rate at all.

    • "No deal," maybe. :P

  • Now I wish I'd set up my car insurance on my own machine rather than while at my mum's house.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by aliquis ( 678370 )

      Just Google for it, clearly Google search robots must get the best rates so that more people will follow the links.

  • by RichMan ( 8097 ) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @09:33AM (#34123464)

    Here is a comment from the article. I have not tested this.

    bearymore::: ""Wow! I have a Firefox addon which spoofs the user agent. When I go to Capitalone with the default Firefox as the user agent I get 3.50%. When set the addon to tell Capitalone I'm using Internet Explorer, I get 2.70%. When I switch back to Firefox, I get 3.50% again. Keep in mind, I'm using the same browser and simply opening the site in different tabs""

    So either deliberate or incredibly bad coding for a financial site.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jimicus ( 737525 )

      This opens up a very interesting can of worms. I wonder how many other companies selling products that vary on a per-customer basis are using this information? Car insurance is another one that springs to mind, particularly if you live in a part of the world where it's compulsory.

    • So either deliberate or incredibly bad coding for a financial site.

      Or incredibly deliberate bad coding.

    • by UID30 ( 176734 )
      Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained through incompetence.
      - Hanlon, Heinlein, whoever...
  • JavaScript (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Lumbre ( 1822486 ) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @09:36AM (#34123498)

    Just turn JavaScript off and you'll get the higher 3.50% every time ...

    Seems like something's up with their variables; A different cg variable causes a different rate for the same zip code.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by clone53421 ( 1310749 )

      So what’s the Javascript you type in the address bar to have it give you 1%?

    • Is what rates do you actually get? Just because they print a rate on their site doesn't mean you may not get a higher or lower rate when you actually get approved for the product, after they've looked at things that actually matter.

      I have trouble believing a random poster that claims to have worked there that this actually influences things. Really? Then where is the actuary data on this, and why isn't it something asked on home loans? Anything that has a significant predictive value int terms of loan perfo

  • This calls for a ... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by contra_mundi ( 1362297 ) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @09:37AM (#34123514)
    This calls for a Firefox add-on or greasemonkey script that will take such pages, request the pages with different user-agents, and compare the resulting pages for differences. If the only difference is a single numerical value, it should be easy enough to catch. And then print it to the user in a neat table or graph.
  • I wonder if this correlation has anything to do with AdBlock? Maybe IE users see a lot of ads competing on rate, while Firefox users don't. Or maybe Firefox users pay off their car early and aren't as profitable....
  • Retaliation for Ad-Block!

  • I mean if you use Lynx you must be a bearded freak living in your parents basement.

    "Dear literal net, yes I know it will now work with Lynx"

  • From the text of the email, it seems that the user launched the site once in each browser. The quote was probably changing each time the page loaded (according to some actuarial variable, intentional randomness to see how people reacted to different prices, or a bug in the software making the quote) completely independently of the browser choice.

    • by afidel ( 530433 )
      Followup comments say that using user agent switcher someone else was able to reliably switch the rate at will by switching the user agent string for Firefox.
  • Orc mischief to me.
  • they could use that information to find people using apple products. and charge such people 9.5%. as long as the car was titanium white, such people would happily purchase at that rate

    • And if the information returned Internet Explorer, could they offer a lower rate, believing that the car being purchased will be in the shop more often?

  • by shadowrat ( 1069614 ) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @10:02AM (#34123768)
    Technically, i think the W3C standards for HTML 4.0 require a 3.5% interest rate. The other browsers are just providing proprietary rates in a standards breaking battle of oneupmanship. I think HTML 5 attempts to address this issue with the new heavily scriptable InterestCanvas element.
  • by Attila Dimedici ( 1036002 ) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @10:04AM (#34123796)
    While it may be true that users of different browsers tend to have varying levels of credit worthiness that tracks to what browser they use, this creditworthiness will be more clearly (and accurately) reflected by other criteria. As an example, while people with a particualar credit score range may be more likely to select a particular browser, it seems improbable to me that people who select a particular browser are more or less likely to default on debt than people with the same credit score who select a different browser.
  • Now, at least we know there is room for negotiation on the interest rates.
    Don't pay more if you don't have to.
  • by lashwhip76 ( 1850478 ) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @10:06AM (#34123824)
    Used to work there. Capital One has done this for many, many years. They used to send snail mailers with different rates to random households in the same neighborhood. The CEO is one of the early proponents of experimental marketing.
  • by tverbeek ( 457094 ) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @10:10AM (#34123886) Homepage

    The entire insurance industry is based on the principle of retaliation against customers who cost the company money and rewards for those who dutifully pay more than they claim. Any statistical basis they can use to figure out which customer is which ahead of time... they'll use. The only ones they (usually) won't use are those prohibited by law; instead they look for some other factor that correlates strongly, and use that instead. So if they aren't allowed to use race, they'll use neighborhood... if they aren't allowed to use neighborhood, they'll look for something else. Maybe ISP, or IP address block, or OS, or.... browser. They don't care, as long as there's a good correlation. It's not that they hate Firefox users, any more than they hate people of a particular race or ethnic group or neighborhood or religion or credit score or driving record... they just don't care. Like any "good capitalist" they want to maximize profit.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by ScentCone ( 795499 )
      they just don't care

      Of course they care. That's the whole point. They care that some people are going to cost them more than others, and they adjust for that. The subtext of your comment seems to be that everyone should pay the higher price because a few people are statistically going to be more expensive to service. You might (might) reasonably expect that of a government-provided service, but of a private company that's looking to make money from loaning money? Let 'em live or die by how their market r
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 04, 2010 @10:15AM (#34123932)

    I just spoke to my wife, who spent 10 years working for Capital One at their corporate headquarters in Richmond (*). When I mentioned the gist of the story to her, her response was "I believe it", which actually floored me as I am always telling her about various conspiracy stories I see online. She immediately offered up that they use various bits of financial information to determine what % interest rate you would be charged and suggested that the Safari users would be seen as having more money (as Mac owners) and hence a lower risk.

    (*) As an aside, if you haven't been to the Capital One campus in Richmond [] then you are missing out. The selection of restaurants is amazing. They have outdoor basketball and volleyball courts. And they even have a frickin' treehouse where you can go and sit outside with your laptop and do your work via Wi-Fi. The downside is that corporate doesn't instill loyalty as pretty well everyone in Richmond either knows someone who was downsized from Capital One, or is downsized themselves.

    The only better work conditions nearby would be CarMax, which for their staff they don't offer fixed length vacations. You get to choose how long you take off each year - they assume that if you are professional enough to do your job that you are professional enough to know when your job is done!

  • What rates did lynx/elinks garner? What about IE 6? Does faking a useragent do enough?
  • by Gadget_Guy ( 627405 ) * on Thursday November 04, 2010 @10:19AM (#34123974)

    After reading about this, I am completely {outraged}{amused}{indifferent}{turned on} by this practice.

    Javascript error. Aborting script.

  • This is true (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 04, 2010 @10:26AM (#34124044)

    This is indeed true. I've experienced it this past September. However, I think it is not just based on browser, but also based on geographic location. I checked their site from my home PC with Firefox (east coast state), and to be a bit safer, I VPNed in to my office with my work laptop, still using Firefox, to actually fill out the application. To my surprise, the rate was higher (the exit node to the Internet is a north, central US state for the corporation). I called my wife in to the room to show here two computers, both on Capital One's auto loan home page, showing her the two different "as low as" rates on the page. I'm glad I didn't go with them for the auto load - seedy bastards.

  • by tweakr ( 90832 ) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @10:27AM (#34124046)

    I recently noticed the same type of happening when I was shopping for a Verisign SSL cert (clients *sighs* don't get me started on why). When I use Safari or Firefox, the price for a 1-year "Secure Site" SSL cert (with site seal) is $499 - however, when I switch to Chrome or IE8, I get a price of $399. I only had to buy the one, and so wrote it off as a fluke - but I just re-verified that this is still happening for me (tested on both Mac and Windows), given the news on this article.

    This smacks me as being seriously wrong - now I have to test all browsers when buying something online, to be sure I'm getting the right price? And no, I'm not going to change my default browser habits, just to get lower pricing...

  • So the question becomes whether this is also true for other products and services. Mortgages? Insurance? Physical products? Ancillary question: do these companies not realize the potential PR damage stuff like this does?
  • by Aquitaine ( 102097 ) <sam.iamsam@org> on Thursday November 04, 2010 @10:38AM (#34124166) Homepage

    This is just the advertised rate, which is always based on parlor tricks and weird math. Your actual rate is calculated after your application and credit check are reviewed, and neither of those things care what browser you use.

    This makes sense if you think about it. The bank wants to advertise a rate that is appropriate to you, but it doesn't know much about you until you apply. So it has to guess based on the very limited information it does have. Otherwise -- and this still happens all the time -- you see an ad that says 'Low low 2% APR!' and then you apply and find out that you qualify for 6% APR and get pissed off. If looking at your USER_AGENT reduces the spread between what they promise and what they get, it makes sense for them to do it. But don't let that get in the way of your populist rage.

  • by Nicolas MONNET ( 4727 ) <nicoaltiva AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday November 04, 2010 @11:35AM (#34124808) Journal

    I worked briefly in car insurance, and one of the many questions asked by one of the top insurer was how long the client usually kept his car. (Note that this was an information asked from brokers about their customers, not direct b2c)

    Turns out people who renew their car often take better care of them so as to maximise resale value, and consequently produce less claims. It wasn't a big difference but it was apparently statistically significant.

  • by codepunk ( 167897 ) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @11:39AM (#34124882)

    Sounds like a good opportunity for a firefox plugin.

  • by snspdaarf ( 1314399 ) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @11:41AM (#34124914)
    It's Capital One. They are probably just fucking with people.

"We don't care. We don't have to. We're the Phone Company."