Amazon’s long been a go-to for people to online price compare while shopping at brick-and-mortars. Now, a new patent granted to the company could prevent people from doing just that inside Amazon’s own stores.
The patent, titled “Physical Store Online Shopping Control,” details a mechanism where a retailer can intercept network requests like URLs and search terms that happen on its in-store Wi-Fi, then act upon them in various ways.
The document details in great length how a retailer like Amazon would use this information to its benefit. If, for example, the retailer sees you’re trying to access a competitor’s website to price check an item, it could compare the requested content to what’s offered in-store and then send price comparison information or a coupon to your browser instead. Or it could suggest a complementary item, or even block content outright.
Amazon’s patent also lets the retailer know your physical whereabouts, saying, “the location may be triangulated utilizing information received from a multitude of wireless access points.” The retailer can then use this information to try and upsell you on items in your immediate area or direct a sales representative to your location.
Though recently approved, the patent was originally filed in 2012. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is not one to shy away from playing the long game, so it’s hard to say how this will factor into any of Amazon’s immediate plans (if at all — it could be a defensive patent), especially as its physical store initiatives are fairly new.
As mentioned, it does appear that this patent would only be implemented via an in-store Wi-Fi network, meaning you could work around it by using your provider’s data to surf. While the idea of a blocked price comparison search is annoying, it’s also the very sort of thing Amazon itself protests. Amazon, along with other companies and nonprofit groups, have signed on to a “day of action” to protest the FCC’s planned rollback of net neutrality rules. You can read the entire patent here.