Monday, March 14, 2005

Cookie Monsters?

I'd like to know a lot more about JupiterResearch's March 9 report that claims:
  • Ten percent of Web users delete cookies daily.

  • 17 percent delete them weekly.

  • And 12 percent delete them monthly.
Jupiter Research is trying to tell me that nearly 40 percent of users delete cookies monthly? Puh-leeze.

Seth Godin is already all over this, in an aptly-titled post, File under: stats that cannot be true. Asks Mr. Godin:
This is the same population that can't get rid of pop ups, repeatedly falls for phishing of their Paypal and eBay accounts, still uses Internet Explorer, buys stuff from spammers, doesn't know what RSS is and sends me notes every day that say, "what's a blog?"
Exactly. So what could explain these inexplicable findings?

My first thought was that maybe the results reflected corporate practices—that IT departments routinely sweep cookies off client systems on a regular basis. But the Jupiter findings came from a survey of 2,337 individual respondents who claimed they deleted cookies regularly.

Then I remembered that survey respondents can be notorious for answering questions not based upon actual behavior but upon what they think they should be doing. How many servings of vegetables do you eat daily? How many times a week do you exercise? How often do you go to church? Maybe that's what's going on here. People think they should be deleting cookies regularly, are embarrassed that they're not, so they report that they do. This idea gets credence from Erik Petersen, JupiterResearch's lead analyst for the report:
"For some reason, consumers have identified cookies incorrectly as spyware," [Petersen] added. "Consumers don't understand what cookies do."
I think this is closer to the truth. Run Spybot Search and Destroy or Ad-Aware SE. Both report "tracking cookies" as possible threats. Naive users could be easily misled into thinking that all cookies are evil and should be deleted. Maybe they even think that using anti-spyware tools to remove tracking cookies removes all cookies. All the talk about Internet scams could also unwittingly lead some to fear anything they don't understand. Who knows?

There are some users who routinely delete cookies or reject them altogether. But if JupiterResearch examined the hard drives of those 40 percent who claim to delete cookies at least monthly, I'm sure they'd find the number significantly lower.

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