Could using Firefox bump your rate for a car loan?

If you shop online, does your browser affect the price you're quoted? That's what some shoppers suspect, citing variant prices for car loans that seemed to depend on which browser was used - in one case, Firefox, Safari or Chrome.

A poster on Slashdot reported:

"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!"

With so much rich data now available about consumer behavior, it’s possible that companies that are able to routinely and legally practice price discrimination - such as lenders and insurers - might find value in looking at technology choices as predictors of risk or price sensitivity.

Here's how "Devin" described the experience to Consumerist:

I just put my order in for my Nissan Leaf and received the total price for it so decided it'd be a good idea to take a look and see what auto loan rates were. I checked my credit union first and they currently are offering 3.99%. Not bad, but about a week ago Capital One had sent me an email advertising a 3.10% rate. I went to check the website using my default browser (Firefox 4 Beta 6) and noticed it was at 3.5%.

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%.

I'm not sure why Capital One would choose to offer Chrome users a lower rate than Firefox users, but it's interesting nonetheless.

Of course, there are other explanations than sophisticated computer models that think better of Chrome users (or predict they'll be more price-sensitive). As another commenter to Consumerist responded:

Guaranteed this is standard price testing, CapitalOne along with every other major financial institution does this all the time. The fact you got different rates with different browers is coincidence.

Clearly an experiment worth repeating - if nothing else, to find out what happened with Internet Explorer.And perhaps a reason to try out Chrome.