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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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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 04, 2010 @09:29AM (#34123428)

    It's always been an interesting problem with insurance. If they can find some data that reliably correlates to account performance why not use it? Does it matter if it's logical so long as it's true and accurate (note I'm not saying that these particular data are)? Of course if news of certain criterion gets out and causes enough of an outcry to loose them money then they'll stop using it. They are a business after all.

    On the other hand the theory behind insurance (not behind insurance companies mind you) is to pool high cost but low probability risk so that everyone chips in a little in the the chance that they might be one of the few who need help. With this principle the idea is to spread out the burden. As companies get more and more accurate predictors of your individual risk and charge you accordingly they start to defeat the entire purpose of insurance. Think of what the end state of a perfectly predictive set of data would be. Everyone pays for exactly what they will cost, in other words it's not insurance at all.

  • Re:Repeat after me (Score:5, Informative)

    by MyLongNickName ( 822545 ) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @09:30AM (#34123432) Journal

    Repeat after me "People who blindly yell 'Correlation is not causation' should be slapped with a trout.'

    FTA: "I figured it had just gone up since I received the email. I tried to use their little payment calculator but the flash based widget wouldn't work properly in the Firefox Beta so I loaded up Safari to try and funny enough the rate offered was 2.7%. I checked in Chrome and Opera to see if it was maybe just something wrong with the Firefox beta and Chrome's rate was 2.3% while Opera's was 3.1%."

    and "Devin installed fresh versions of the browsers in order to make sure the changes didn't result from different cookie settings. It seems those looking for a Capital One loan should apply through Chrome."

    There are no other obvious variables. The only crime you can punish this guy for is not repeating the experiment across other computers. You can try it for yourself to see if it holds true for you as well.

  • STATISTICS! (Score:4, Informative)

    by PatHMV ( 701344 ) <> on Thursday November 04, 2010 @09:48AM (#34123622) Homepage

    Insurance is a game of statistics. Yes, some browsers lie in their user agent string. Yes, sometimes people use other people's browsers. But MOST browsers are what they say they are, MOST people use their own machine pretty regularly, and if the insurance company is really doing this (which I take no position on), then you can bet they have statistics to back up their belief that there's a difference in insurance risk, ON AVERAGE, between users of different browsers.

    The insurance company couldn't care less if the correlation holds true for every single instance. They know that it doesn't, in fact. But if it holds true often enough, then they can use that data to offer some people a better price on the insurance, because they're statistically less likely to file a claim.

  • 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 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.
  • 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:Repeat after me (Score:5, Informative)

    by TheWanderingHermit ( 513872 ) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @10:25AM (#34124034)

    Yeah, I'd feel dirty if I defended Capital One, too.

    They're local here and known by many people as Crapital One for their firing sprees and tendency to make employees disappear. They're also the fastest bank in the nation to sue their own customers. (I sell data to bankruptcy lawyers who keep up with this kind of thing.) They're the last bank I'd go to for a credit card or a loan anyway.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 04, 2010 @10:32AM (#34124104)

    Quotes are based on database backends, not static pages. This is deliberate coding, and they've been caught out. There is no other way the USER_AGENT string can be used to influence calculated results. You have to look for it, and code according to the results. Expect a lot of shit to hit the fan when this hits the mainstream media.

  • Re:I wonder (Score:3, Informative)

    by Rary ( 566291 ) * on Thursday November 04, 2010 @10:39AM (#34124186)

    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.

  • Re:STATISTICS! (Score:3, Informative)

    by PatHMV ( 701344 ) <> on Thursday November 04, 2010 @11:18AM (#34124628) Homepage

    Very easy. You sign up to buy their insurance on-line. They grab your useragent string when you make the purchase, and they stick that in their database of information about you, nice and associated with your customer number.

    Then they run a query on claims made. They filter the result to show only claims made by people who bought insurance on-line. Then they average the claims amount by browser type.

    Or, they do a random query to pick 10,000 people who bought their insurance on-line last year. Then they count number of claims by browser type.

  • by Nicolas MONNET ( 4727 ) <> 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 whovian ( 107062 ) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @11:36AM (#34124834)

    I mean, there would be no reason to stop at the browser used? The mode of internet access---heck, even IP address---could be factored in as well.

  • Re:I tested (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 04, 2010 @11:40AM (#34124894)
    Debian Linux Unstable.

    Google Chrome Dev Chanel: 2.7
    Firefox: 2.3
    Lynx: 2.3
  • Re:Repeat after me (Score:5, Informative)

    by Critical Facilities ( 850111 ) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @11:55AM (#34125144)

    Why should the interest rate depend on a credit check..?

    Are you being serious? Have you never secured credit before in your life? ANY lending institution is going to require a credit check prior to lending you any money. You'll notice those advertisements usually have fine print somewhere which indicate "rates as low as" regarding the rate(s) quoted. Your credit score always comes into play, whether or not you realize it. If it didn't, banks would have to offer the same rate to a guy who defaults on all his loans that they offer to a guy who's paid everything on time for years.

  • 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.
  • by ScentCone ( 795499 ) on Thursday November 04, 2010 @04:29PM (#34129188)
    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 responds to the prices the offer. And likewise let high-risk people be a bit reflective about why other people are skittish about taking that risk for them.

Thus spake the master programmer: "Time for you to leave." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"