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Stupid Research Watch: Most Ridiculous Claims Ever

By Ken Magill

Here’s one for the Stupid Research Hall of Fame: Anti-spam watchdog site SpamRatings.com recently published the results of a study claiming, among other things, that “the UK is one of the most dangerous places to surf the Internet in the World.”

And, yes, they capitalized the word “World.”

But silly punctuation is the least of the silliness in this claim.

How can going online be any more dangerous in one country in than any other? Unless we’re talking about human rights—as in China, Cuba and other places where political dissidents are jailed—it can’t.

But we’re not talking about political blogging here. We’re talking about spam, phishing and viruses.

And when it comes to spam, apparently no claim is too ridiculous for SpamRatings, especially when it comes to beating up marketers.

Moreover, some of the claims don’t even make sense. Take the following: “As part of its extensive 12 month research of 10,000 websites and over 150,000 emails identifies websites as the major root cause of spam.”

Web sites are the major root cause of spam? What does that even mean? To take an argument from the gun-rights folks: Web sites don’t spam, people do.

And the ridiculousness continues with the claim “1 in 10 sites [are] responsible for spam—with each site producing an average of five dangerous attacks per day … Spam Ratings’ research also found that one in five websites breach email marketing best practice by automatically opting consumers in to have their details shared or used by third parties.”

According to WhoIs, as of yesterday, there were just under 124 million top-level domains on the Internet, 78,510 of them registered that day.

Surely Spam Ratings can't be claiming that one tenth of all the 124 million sites on the Internet are originating five malicious attacks per day, can it? Of course not.

Spam Ratings’ true agenda comes out right after it claims one in five Web sites are automatically opting consumers in to have their details shared or used by third parties.

“This includes major brands such as Argos, Ticketmaster.co.uk, Money Supermarket, Find A Property, Littlewoods and Woolworths,” the report said.

It is illegal to send unsolicited email to consumers in the UK and doubtless, the legal folks at Argos, Ticketmaster, Woolworths and the other brands named know this.

So even if these companies sold or shared email names with a third party—highly unlikely, except for legitimate business reasons such as fulfillment—it would be against the law for the third party to send unsolicited commercial email to them.

But this little inconvenient fact doesn’t stop the folks at Spam Ratings.

“A staggering 45,000 (30% emails investigated) came from third parties, indicating the sites are selling on personal data on a worrying scale,” the report said.

The figure doesn’t indicate anything of the sort. Let’s assume that by “third parties” Spam Ratings means senders from whom they hadn’t opted in to receive email. One outfit could be selling names and create the same result.

To imply that brands such as Argos, Ticketmaster and Woolworths are selling people’s email addresses to other firms who in turn are spamming the addresses is irresponsible and blatantly dishonest. Message to Spam Ratings: If you can name the company and reach their executives, they are not the problem.

But even worse than Spam Ratings’ sloppily reasoned conclusions are the media outlets—eWeek Europe, for example—that reported them without a hint of skepticism.

But as we’ve seen for quite some time, when it comes to sliming businesses, no claim concerning spam is too outlandish.

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