McDonald’s customer warns of ‘personalized pricing’ on the app

@_sebway_/TikTok FellowNeko/ShutterStock (Licensed)

‘In the same way that Uber can track your battery percentage’: McDonald’s customer warns of ‘personalized pricing’ on the app

‘This is super frightening.’

 

Brooke Sjoberg

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In recent years, data privacy related to the usage of mobile phone applications has become an ever-warming topic.

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Legislators have even spent the past year attempting to ban the use of popular social media app TikTok over what they have described as “data privacy concerns.”

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Well, on that very same app, a content creator says consumers should be concerned about apps from restaurants like McDonald’s, and theorizes that they could be used to take unfair advantage of customers.

In a video posted to TikTok by user Seb (@_sebway_) that has drawn over 287,000 views, the poster encourages viewers to delete their McDonald’s app, as it may be tracking and collecting data in a price-setting scheme.

“It turns out that they’re not giving you these good deals out of the goodness of their heart,” he says in the video. “They’re actually using these deals to get you on the app so they can steal as much of your data and then take as much of your money as possible using a term called personalized pricing.”

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Seb elaborates that the personalized pricing model is akin to the way pricing is set for surge pricing on Uber rides after a large event, or when a customer’s battery is low. While surge pricing is employed by Uber, the rideshare company has refuted entirely the idea that riders are charged higher fares when their batteries are low. The company does track customers’ battery data, however.

Now, this does not mean fast-food restaurants have not tried to take a page out of rideshare apps’ books. Also referred to as “dynamic pricing,” chains like Wendy’s and Burger King have already floated the idea to the public, indicating that they may opt for the pricing model in the future, much to the dismay of customers.

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Along these lines, Seb suggests that food retailers with apps may eventually move to an app-only pricing model, which he says would open a door to price discrimination, charging higher prices to more vulnerable customers.

“If nobody knows what anyone else is paying on the app, consumers will be more willing to just pay whatever price is handed to them on the app,” he says. “Companies will then use the trove of data that they have about you to take advantage of people in vulnerable positions. If the app knows that you had a bad day at work, or that you’ve been running low on cash in between paychecks, what’s to stop them from charging you an obscene amount of money for your meal. This is super frightening.”

Does the McDonald’s app actually use personalized pricing?

McDonald’s leaders hinted at implementation of personalized pricing during its December 2023 Investor’s Day.

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“Jill McDonald, president of IOM (international operated markets), said the company is starting to take a more personalized approach to value and that approach is facilitated by its technology investments,” Nation’s Restaurant News reported.

The chain’s loyalty program, which launched on the app in 2021, had over 150 million 90-day active users at the end of 2023, a number that’s expected to grow to 250 million by 2027. NRN’s report continues, “Of course, more users equal more data about customer habits, preferences, and so forth, which allows McDonald’s to better personalize its messaging, including increasingly important value messaging.”

The Daily Dot has reached out to McDonald’s via email regarding Seb’s claims, as well as to the TikToker via direct message and a comment on the video.

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The Daily Dot has reached out to Seb via TikTok direct message as well as a comment on the video, in addition to McDonald’s via email regarding the video.

Many viewers said they personally would not change how they use the McDonald’s app after watching the video, because it provided such affordable options.

“lol I just go for the $1.07 iced coffee,” one commenter wrote. “Jokes on them.”

“Jokes on them,” another said. “I order off the value menu and rewards/deals.”

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“I’m always broke, so my deals are always the same,” a third claimed.

@_sebway_ I’m never downloading the McDonald’s app again 😩 @McDonald’s #mcdonalds #mcdonaldsapp #pricegouging #workingclass #pricediscrimination ♬ original sound – Solidarity Seb

Other viewers joked about how little they had for the restaurant chain to actually take advantage of.

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“Can they steal my debt from me?” one commenter wrote. “Lol i don’t know what else they can steal from me, when my bank acct is always negative and I have a bad crddit.”

“Is it really any more invasive than Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, or X?” another commented. “I’m gonna keep my good deals, I’m poor AF.”

“They can take my data,” a further user joked. “All I look up is eBay sales and price drops and the occasional pirated anime.”

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