web analytics

Here’s a tip from an old newspaper hand: Don’t take stories about consumer technology surveys seriously.

They are rarely real news. Most are just second-rate marketing dressed up as information.

University of Auckland biostatistics professor Thomas Lumley rightly points out misgivings about a New Zealand Herald story: “Young Kiwis among most savvy web users” .

As he says, the story is based on a survey of 4400 respondents in 11 countries. Even if the sample is completely random – that’s unlikely – the margin of error for comparing any two countries is 7%.

So when the people behind the survey use their results to reach conclusions about the relative habits of web users in various countries they are drawing a long bow.

It was ever thus.

I’ve written about technology for 32 years. In that time I’ve seen hundreds of spurious surveys sent out by public relations companies in a blatant attempt to get their clients into the news pages.

The worst offenders are security software companies wanting to whip up paranoia to sell their latest snake oil.

To be fair, it isn’t just security software companies, or just technology companies. You’ll find all kinds of rubbish in the newspaper masquerading as research. I’ve probably been responsible for some in my time.

Just remember to take this stuff with a pinch of salt.