Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
The Internet

Economic Predictions Using Web Usage Data 149

Posted by Hemos
from the it's-the-super-nielsen-ratings dept.
Makarand writes "The Chicago Tribune has an article on the claims of ComScore Networks Inc., that it can predict major economic trends by tracking the online activity of 1.5 Million people. The company gains access to people's Internet travelogues by giving them free security software and programs that speed up their connections. Economists say that the company's models need to be tested over several years before they can be considered accurate."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Economic Predictions Using Web Usage Data

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 02, 2002 @09:07AM (#4792587)
    Firm tracks Web activity to predict economy

    By Rob Kaiser
    Tribune staff reporter
    Published November 30, 2002

    Investors are always scavenging for data that could indicate the market's direction. Changes in everything from cardboard box orders to hemline lengths have led to stock market bets.

    Now upstart ComScore Networks Inc. is claiming it can predict major economic trends by tracking the online activity of 1.5 million people.

    While using Internet data to gauge the entire economy remains unproven--and economists are skeptical--the possibility highlights the Internet's unique ability to capture how people spend their time and money.

    "It's a heck of a lot easier to watch somebody's online behavior than to follow everyone around in their daily lives," said Brian Wesbury, chief economist with Griffin, Kubik, Stephens & Thompson Inc. in Chicago. "So the more things we do online, the easier it is to track our behavior."

    ComScore gains access to people's Internet travels by giving them free security software and programs that speed up their Internet connections. With its capacity to download 18 billion Web page views annually, ComScore expects this year to capture 800 million Internet searches and 5 million online transactions.

    The question facing the 3-year-old company is how to use all this data.

    So far, ComScore has gone in several directions, publishing rankings of the most-visited Web sites, tracking the success of online marketing campaigns and predicting the results of e-commerce companies such as Amazon.com prior to the companies' earnings reports.

    Now the company is launching its boldest initiative, betting it can extrapolate what is happening online to the offline world. ComScore says it can determine spending, employment, automobile sales and other economic measures by comparing prior government data to levels of Internet spending and traffic on certain sites during the same period.

    "I've been in the research business for a long time, but this is blowing my mind," said Gian Fulgoni, ComScore's chairman. Fulgoni, formerly the chief executive of market research firm Information Resources Inc., is based in ComScore's Chicago office. The company is officially based in Reston, Va., where its president is located.

    To estimate employment levels, ComScore looks at visits among the people it tracks to more than 1,000 sites with job listings. It estimates how many of those visitors are unemployed by looking at whether the searches are being conducted at home during normal work hours and how often they visit the sites.

    Research tool

    "Consumers use the Internet today more than any other medium to research important decisions," Fulgoni said.

    ComScore tries to predict the government's overall retail spending figure by looking at online buying activity.

    "It mirrors it enough that you can predict if spending is going to be strong or weak in a month," Fulgoni said. "I'm not saying it's a perfect correlation."

    As a second gauge of spending, ComScore also looks for trends in the credit card statements that about 30,000 of its panelists view online.

    ComScore charges $50,000 for an annual subscription to the economic data. So far, Fulgoni says, a few customers have signed on to receive the information.

    The company is also selling its data to an upstart hedge fund for a reduced price in return for a percentage of the fund's gains.

    David Nuelle, a founder of the Arcanum Fund, said he will use ComScore's data to make investment decisions in e-commerce companies and offline firms, such as Southwest Airlines, where customers often place orders via the Internet.

    "You can get a strong sense of the revenues" of companies that do business on the Internet, Nuelle said. "It'll be the strongest data point we will look at."

    ComScore, which has 200 employees, has enjoyed some success at predicting the results of e-commerce companies.

    Last month, the company estimated that Amazon.com would report third-quarter sales of between $839 million and $851 million, exceeding analysts' consensus estimates of $807 million. Two weeks later Amazon.com announced third-quarter revenue of $851.3 million.

    Still, predicting the results of individual e-commerce companies is a far cry from being able to provide a new window to the direction of the entire economy.

    "To make money off this thing you have to be better than the Blue Chip consensus," said Anil Kashyap, an economics professor at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business. "There's a long way between saying we can predict and making money."

    Testing needed

    Kashyap and other economists said the company's models need to be tested over several years before they can be considered accurate. Also, the company will have to learn how to account for a general increase in Internet use and sales as well as seasonal factors, they said.

    A more proven area of ComScore's business is showing companies whether their online advertising is sparking offline sales. ComScore gathers grocery store scanning data for 60,000 of the people it is tracking to watch their buying habits.

    Nestle Purina Pet Care has used this service to determine if its Web site and online ads are prompting additional sales.

    "We don't have that closeness of data with any other medium," said Michael Moore, director of Purina Interactive in St. Louis.

    Copyright © 2002, Chicago Tribune
    • by mr_z_beeblebrox (591077) on Monday December 02, 2002 @09:30AM (#4792708) Journal
      My own thought on this (my fiance is a biologist and we do a lot of 'those' stats, that is my only qualification) is that internet users are a subset of the people who make up the economy. As more research goes into this they will find that trends indicated by internet usage will have a relationship with actual trends of the 'whole picture' and will later develop the internet /society ratio as a valid indicator. However, until they have this backlog of data to compare it to it will not remain valid.

      They could of course mine the net for data on past years and produce 'predictions' for those years to compare with actual data on those years and deduce the ratio from there.
    • Can't Alexa do this, too?
      I bet they've got more data as well.

  • Spyware (Score:4, Insightful)

    by krnlpanic (221192) <krnl@krnlpa n i c .com> on Monday December 02, 2002 @09:07AM (#4792588) Homepage
    "The company gains access to people's Internet travelogues by giving them free security software and programs that speed up their connections."

    I always thought that anyone who provides programs to "Speed up your internet connection" were crooked and could not be trusted. Spyware at its finest. As far as this company providing "security software"...I won't even go there.
    • Re:Spyware (Score:5, Funny)

      by Big Mark (575945) on Monday December 02, 2002 @09:12AM (#4792607)
      Download this free Security Update! Protect yourself from Internet hackers who can steal your credit card and set fire to your house! Remain anonymous on the Internet! All we ask is that you allow the security software to send us your Internet Explorer history files, so we can monitor attacks against your privacy! Do it NOW before it's too late!

      -Mark
      • Re:Spyware (Score:5, Funny)

        by n3k5 (606163) on Monday December 02, 2002 @10:01AM (#4792866) Journal
        WARNING! Your computer is currently BROADCASTING a *gasp* *shock* IP address! With this information, HACKERS can DESTROY your computer! Download our SECURITY patch NOW!
        • Very authentic. If there was a way to get Slashdot to allow posters to flash alternating Red/Blue or other irritating color combinations, or simply "twitch" the post in an annoying fashion every few seconds, would bring it up to yet another dimension in realism.
    • Exactly. How can you expect your connection to be secure through the use of "security software" when the software is spyware itself. What a joke.

      Yet another reason why there should be a master administrator out there somewhere who has a really big stick and a sense of humor. *SMACKO* no more stupid claims.

      shdowwar
    • Re:Spyware (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Does anybody actually have any idea what the spyware in question might be? A cursory look at their website doesn't reveal many details on that front. "Programs that speed up their connections"? Uh huh. Underneath the respectable image these guys are trying to project, they're almost certainly just yet another bunch of ambitious bottom-feeders, relying on standard-issue spyware, installed on their targets' machines via the same old dubious means.. from their front page:

      This capability is based on a massive cross-section of more than 1.5 million global Internet users who have given comScore explicit permission to confidentially capture their Web-wide browsing, buying and other transaction behavior, including offline purchasing.

      Call me cynical but who wants to bet that the 'explicit permission' in question amounts to one of those Active-X popups we've all seen that say "Would you like to install and run Media Whore LLC Client (By Installing This You Agree to All Terms And Conditions of the License).exe?"

      Actually, I've just done a bit of searching on the matter, and it turns out that this may not neccessarily be the case at all.. or not entirely at least. googling around indicates that Zone Alarm has (still does?) had comScore/MediaMetrix's 'value-added' software included with it in the past. No doubt plenty of additional dirt just waiting to be dug up by someone who's got more time to do so than I have right now..
      • I get popups that imitate WinXP wizards asking to speed boost my Internet connection all the time.

        They look really authentic on my OS X box, BTW.

  • by giel (554962) on Monday December 02, 2002 @09:07AM (#4792589) Journal

    Tracking the behaviour of 1.5 million people. And all these people are aware they are being tracked? And they did agree?
    I can't believe it...

    PS. Watch out! You computer has an IP address...

    • by e8johan (605347) on Monday December 02, 2002 @09:08AM (#4792593) Homepage Journal
      All major investment companies are going to push huge shit-loads of dollars into the p0rn industry... unless they know that they are tracked.
    • This reminds me of a large, space-wasting ad I saw earlier: "Your Computer Is Currently Broadcasting An Internet IP Address. With This Address, Someone Can Begin Attacking Your Computer!" That is terrible news! At least they had the decency to make the "titlebar" say "Advertisement" for a few seconds before it changed to "Security Alert", I never would have guessed.

      It would be scary if that ad was from ComScore, though.

      I wonder what their software's license agreement will look like, and what "form" their software will be in.
      Trojan, piggybacking, or something else? Will they actually plain-english tell us "This program is going to keep track of the websites you visit and purchases you make."?
  • Irony? (Score:5, Funny)

    by feepcreature (623518) on Monday December 02, 2002 @09:08AM (#4792592) Homepage
    Is it just me, or is there something wrong with the sentence:
    The company gains access to people's Internet travelogues by giving them free security software...

    P.

  • security company? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by twitter (104583) on Monday December 02, 2002 @09:09AM (#4792596) Homepage Journal
    I suppose having your every move on the web tracked and monitored by some comercial company over windows is considered secure by some. Next time these folks want security and a faster connection software, might I recomend:

    This would make the world a better place, even if it could not be used to forcast the next great depresion.

    • If your average Joe would use Linux to browse the web, this programs would come as Linux software.

      Please su to root and type rpm -i SpyErrrSecuritysoftware.rpm
    • You are living in the past. Legacy security products like Debian, Red Hat and OpenBSD take a simple-minded approach to security: Protect the user from the outside world. More modern security systems like Microsoft's Palladium are needed to cater to today's real security needs (see here [microsoft.com] for first-hand information): Protecting the world from the users!

      (Look at it like this: If hackers cannot break *out* of their own system, how can they ever break *into* another system? This is providing maximum security at a minimum price to legal users, because if you are a legal user ["l-user"], you don't want to break the system anyway.)

      This company takes the concept one step further: It offers Internet security by checking people's history files for illegal and objectionable sites. This will bring those sites down because they won't have any customers any more (how's Debian going to solve *that* problem, hmm?). If you recommend products like the above, you're not going to do any good, just harm, because modern security products like this company's usually only run on Microsoft computers. (Open source is not likely to get professional security soon-- proof: currently there are NO open-source projects working on a free implementation of Palladium!)

  • It begins. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by torre (620087) on Monday December 02, 2002 @09:09AM (#4792597)
    The uses of novelty things to promote the real agenda of spyware or perhaps we should call it the new reincarnation of the Trojan horse. This is only but the first public release of what they've been doing, God knows what they've done without us knowing.

    but that's just my 2 cents.

  • by mccalli (323026) on Monday December 02, 2002 @09:12AM (#4792605) Homepage
    I would imagine this data is skewed towards the mid and high-end income brackets, and also away from the older age brackets.

    Given that the equipment you need to access the web is still fairly pricy, and also that the majority of people accessing it are still relatively young, I'd question the ability of this model to extrapolate to the wider world.

    Cheers,
    Ian

    • by actiondan (445169) on Monday December 02, 2002 @09:21AM (#4792657)
      I would imagine this data is skewed towards the mid and high-end income brackets, and also away from the older age brackets.

      Also, the sample will only include people stupid enough to download their spyware and let it report back on everything they do online.

      • So all the smart people get filtered out, leaving only dumbasses. Well, the sites they visit often must belong to stupid companies. Tada, instant stupidity-rating! :-)

        Reinout
      • by Anonymous Coward
        I think the above argument one is more relevent. You are getting a subsample of the population who's behavior may or may not mimic that of the general population. Further this data only has real value as long as you have a continuing time series availble. If technology/the sample charecteristics/sampling techniques change in the next 3 years the data doesn't have alot of value, as its predictive power has not been established with out of sample testing and the ability to continue to use a consistent dataset to continue to use it to forcast once a predictive model is built. And although I'm a PC user, do the have a MAC version? MAC users on average have highter incomes (FLAME ON!). This alone skews the sample from the general population. Is that enough to make its predictive power worthless? Probably not, but only time will tell.
      • Also, the sample will only include people stupid enough to download their spyware and let it report back on everything they do online.

        In other words, the general population.

    • Good point. I'm sure you realise however that this is what researchers do best: taking a subset of data and using that to make a conclusion about a superset of facts outside the scope of the original data.

      The real decicated ones do this the best! I could tell them I had Corn Flakes for breakfast and somehow they could conclude that we're heading for a recession.

      I've noticed that the HR dept at work is good at this kind of thing too. Don't ask them for a pay rise, because whenever you do, your job industry is always doing below par and they cannot justify trickling any more money your way. Don't even think about trying to argue the point with your own data either. They always know better.
      • What's got me confused is how this is any different from the "breadbasket" approach the CBO uses to calculate things like consumer price index.

        The only differences are a larger sample size and a complete lack of methodology.
    • Be realistic, this is for businesses, they aren't interested in exact demographic data, they are interested in finding out what everyone is up to and what is the latest "fad" so they can somehow exploit it endlessly to generate revenue.

    • --I live in a rual area. I'd guesstimate that within a one mile radius of where I live the medium age is at least 50 (or close to that), ie, not a whole lotta kids around here,mostly neo geezers or geezers. Almost every household around here has an online computer now. Most of these folks are retired or close to it, and buy stuff online. Reason I know this is because I am the local nerd and get called on by the neighbors to help fix or explain this or that. They usually have much older machines-well I do too, but still, online is online, it doesn't require the very latest bleeding edge that younger folks get, primarily for gaming purposes it appears. Hmm, I'm thinking of this one millionaire contractor I do occassional work for, he's only running an old 300 mghz (or so) machine that his son gave him. He could go buy a brand new whatever, and has no need so he doesn't. Just like his pickup he drives around, he could afford a brand new one and just isn't buying one, he has no need at this point. Yet he owns hundreds of acres has a huge house, plays with his horses, goes on trips and vacations, etc. In other words generalizations can be deceiving.

      ya, I try to do this anyway, the "help fix this or that" part..... too funny really.....

      As to this company's predictions, I bet they can get close enough using available data mining techniques. We don't really have any indication how extensive their collation efforts are, but given what we know about virtually every industry selling/sharing it's data, combined with web surfing mappage, they probably can get a reasonable approximation, and every day they add to it it gets 'better". Even most states sell demographic info, credit histories, zipcodes are tied to al of this as in past dead trees bulk mailings, what you buy all the way from grocery store shopping cards to banking records are all avaialable now. Combine this with surfing habits, well, that's a lot of decent data to work from..
    • I would imagine this data is skewed towards the mid and high-end income brackets

      There is a way of adjusting for such skewed data. It's called statistics. At $50,000/year/subscription, I think they can probably afford to keep a statistician on payroll. Or clients who can afford the subscription fee could afford one.

      • There is a way of adjusting for such skewed data. It's called statistics.

        There is no way of compensating for inherently skewed data. You can, however, calculate the confidence interval of the data you have.

        Cheers,
        Ian

        • There is no way of compensating for inherently skewed data.

          This is simply incorrect. Pollsters do it all the time. Here's a simple example. Suppose a poll surveys 100 people. In the survey sample, 75 are men and 25 are women. In the population, the genders are divided evenly. So you multiply the results for women by 3 so that you have the same number of responses from men and women (obviously you would then calculate the margin of error taking your original sample size into account).

          When you have a huge sample size such as the data from this company, such adjustments can be done to an amazing level of precision. The margin of error would be tiny.

          • In the population, the genders are divided evenly.

            Actually, in first-world countries there are slightly more women than men. In countries where there is heavy repression or infanticide of women (Middle East, China, etc) there are more men.

            But by "skewed" I think the original poster meant that the data wasn't being collected in a consistent, methodical manner. I'd say that the problem is that they're misstating what they're recording: weblogs are not the same thing as financial transactions. There's *no* uniform API that can tell you when someone bought something.

            So they have to guess, and guessing a million times is just as bad as guessing 10 times.
            • in first-world countries there are slightly more women than men

              Yes, I understand. I was trying to keep my example simple for the statistically disinclined. The point is that this method can be used to take all that (and more) into account. You could compare the sample to all Internet users, the general population, or any other population of which the sample is a subgroup.

              But by "skewed" I think the original poster meant that the data wasn't being collected in a consistent, methodical manner. I'd say that the problem is that they're misstating what they're recording: weblogs are not the same thing as financial transactions. There's *no* uniform API that can tell you when someone bought something.

              No, the point is that you can adjust statistically for data that is not "collected in a consistent, methodical manner." And yes, they can tell when someone bought something. They have access to 30,000 credit card statements. About the only thing they'd have trouble adjusting for is the fact that users must "opt-in" to using their spyware. What we're all curious about in this discussion is how, exactly, did they convince *anyone* to opt-in.

  • by John_Renne (176151) <zooi@gn i f f e l n i euws.net> on Monday December 02, 2002 @09:13AM (#4792612) Homepage
    I don't think the group theý're tracking will be very representative. Allthough there is a large group of people is using the Internet there's no way global trends can be predicted by their behaviour. There is a world out there that's hardly connected (some call it Africa) that has some influence on our world's economy but is left out completely.

    Maybe the researchers should see the world is bigger than the US
    • Maybe the researchers should see the world is bigger than the US

      Good joke! Oh, wait, you were actually serious...
    • There is a world out there that's hardly connected (some call it Africa) that has some influence on our world's economy but is left out completely.

      Let's be serious. You could over or underestimate Africa's economic figures by probably an order of magnitude or more and still not create half as much noise in your predictions as being off by a quarter of a point in your interest rate forecasts. Yes, Africa has some influence on the world economy. But it doesn't have much.
      • Yes, Africa has some influence on the world economy. But it doesn't have much.

        Aside from supporting terrorists, Africa has virtually no impact whatsoever. Many African nations have larger black markets than legal activity. Most of the aid they receive from Western interests is used to prop up the dictators.
    • Maybe the researchers should see the world is bigger than the US

      Hell, being a Mac user (in the US...) I'd point out that not all of us use Windows machines.

      *But* if you wanted to gauge economic activity, I'd have to admit that a guess that included 95% of all users would be a good guess.

      I don't see why these guys are restricted to the US. After all, they can get there software on European and Japanese computers too.

      Then you've got at least 90% of the world's economy. I still don't think it's good methodology because I think the concept of tracking web histories sucks, but I wouldn't fault their sample as being inadequate. (Now that I think about it, there's another problem: they only track consumer activity.)
  • by WPIDalamar (122110) on Monday December 02, 2002 @09:14AM (#4792620) Homepage

    ComScore announces their predictions for this year based on web activity. You should take all of your money out of large cap stocks and invest heavily into p0rn!

  • by sifi (170630) on Monday December 02, 2002 @09:14AM (#4792621)
    ComScore also looks for trends in the credit card statements that about 30,000 of its panelists view online

    Is it just me - or does that sound slightly worrying?

    They claim to look at a cross section of society, but I'm willing to bet only the criminally insane would sign up knowing that they are perusing your credit card statements...

    • ComScore also looks for trends in the credit card statements that about 30,000 of its panelists view online

      Is it just me - or does that sound slightly worrying?


      No, it's extremely worrying.
  • by cperciva (102828) on Monday December 02, 2002 @09:15AM (#4792627) Homepage
    As a second gauge of spending, ComScore also looks for trends in the credit card statements that about 30,000 of its panelists view online.

    That's right: If you have their spyware installed on your computer, they are going to be looking through your credit card statements.

    Why isn't this illegal yet?
  • In 5 years we will all be using Free Software, and the American Government for the first time ever elects a Communist president.
  • by actiondan (445169) on Monday December 02, 2002 @09:18AM (#4792640)
    As a second gauge of spending, ComScore also looks for trends in the credit card statements that about 30,000 of its panelists view online.

    It sends details from credit card statements!!? I wonder how many of the users of this thing are aware that it does this...

    This sounds like spyware to me. 'Free security software and software to speed up their internet connection' sounds a bit vague about what this actual does apart from send confidential information to this company.

    • I don't believe that. How can you get someone's cc statement from browser logs? I connect to my bank via SSL, my browser doesn't cache pages retrieved via SSL, so where's the data?

      (Granted, I'm using OS X for all my personal stuff, but if I were using Windows, I don't see how it could work.)
  • people's viewing of porn gauge the economical climate?

    I guess you could predicate higher economical activity followed by a brief period of laxed activity, cycling every 20 minutes between 10pm and 1 am...

    So how is this useful again?

    • I guess you could predicate higher economical activity followed by a brief period of laxed activity, cycling every 20 minutes between 10pm and 1 am...

      Every 20 minutes? Woah there, cowboy...

  • by stud9920 (236753) on Monday December 02, 2002 @09:19AM (#4792647)
    My economy prediction is that comscore will soon file a chapter 11.
  • Is it just me? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by deadgoon42 (309575) on Monday December 02, 2002 @09:20AM (#4792651) Journal
    This sounds a lot like Pyschohistory from Isaac Asimov's Foundation novels. Predicting the future using models of how a large number of people behave. Do we give Isacc some credit?
  • by girl_geek_antinomy (626942) on Monday December 02, 2002 @09:22AM (#4792660)
    Notwithstanding the privacy issues involved, which have been discussed by other people -

    I'd have thought that if you could get a representative group of people of sufficient size, and allow for intrinsic skew in the data, then watching what they do online - what their ecommerce browse to conversion rates are, whether they're shopping at all, whether they're looking at holidays, cars, that kind of thing - could well provide a very good short-term predictor of where the economy is going next.

    You could find out, for instance, that people were planning to buy new cars or go on a long-haul holiday weeks or months before that was converted to Real Money in the retailers' pockets, and upwards of three months before the quarterly reports from the companies themselves start to reflect the changes in the economic climate.

    Sounds to me like this could be a really interesting toy to use as an adjunct to playing the markets :)
    • This is very interesting data if it is properly collected. However, there is a certain ethics that require that the subjects of such a survey know exactly what information they're sending in. Burying it in an EULA isn't exactly informed consent.
  • by ivrcti (535150)
    I really think this is only looking at a small, unscientific sample of the population, and is therefore highly prone to skewing.

    It has also been my observation that most spending on-line is from discretionary funds, so this tends to skew the results as well.

    Finally, it does take into account the type of information being accepted by their target audience. Those who get their information primarily from internet sources, deal with a different set of information than those who rely primarily on TV/newspapers, and will therefore make different buying decisions.
  • by danny (2658) on Monday December 02, 2002 @09:29AM (#4792703) Homepage
    Just imagine what Google can do with data on 80% of the Net's searches! The Google Zeitgeist [google.com] is just bait, I'm sure there are people paying Google huge sums for both specific data and overall statistics.

    Danny.

    • Without installing Spyware on your machine. Imagine that! You can be a nice, legitimate business which doesn't violate people's privacy in order to get money!
  • by jck2000 (157192) on Monday December 02, 2002 @09:29AM (#4792705)
    Does anyone know what Amex, Discover, Visa, MasterCard, etc. are doing currently with the data they accumulate? I am not suggesting anything nefarious, rather I think these institutions, by having much larger (and probably more representative) sample sizes, would be able to accomplish much more than this smaller company would.
  • Double Look. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by torre (620087)
    After reading the article again and checking the site, it has come to my attention that this is some pretty crazy shit!. Let me just clerify what i mean....

    Directly from the article "As a second gauge of spending, ComScore also looks for trends in the credit card statements that about 30,000 of its panelists view online." and "ComScore gains access to people's Internet travels by giving them free security software and programs that speed up their Internet connections. With its capacity to download 18 billion Web page views annually, ComScore expects this year to capture 800 million Internet searches and 5 million online transactions." now after a quick serch of of the site ComScore Networks Inc [comscore.com] i couldn't find any reference to this free security software... So, is it just be or does it sound pretty fishy that this site looks at all your web queries, your online credit card statements, what you buy and dont, but isn't recognized by the company?....

    Dare i scream invasion of privacy?

    • The more you read into it, the worse it gets:
      comScore's technology can be downloaded to any browser in a matter of seconds and unobtrusively routes the member's Internet connection through comScore's network of servers, without requiring any further action on the part of the individual. The technology allows comScore to capture the complete detail of all the communication to and from each individual's computer - on a site-specific, individual-specific basis. Information captured on an individual member basis includes every site visited, page viewed, ad seen, promotion used, product or service bought, and price paid. Importantly, individual anonymity is guaranteed by comScore.
      and
      ...it is extremely challenging - even with a consumer's opt-in permission - to capture information communicated to and from a browser in a secure session (e.g. any purchase transaction). In order to do this successfully, technology is required that "securely monitors a secure connection."

      are on their "about our technology" page. They justify invading so many people's privacy because it's an 'opt in' technology... but do these people really know what the 'technology' does, much less if it's on their computer at all?
  • I'll forecast... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ackthpt (218170)
    Years of frustrated users, with tempers rising in all parts of the country, some parting with the Web, due to high pressure sells from spam and a few fleeced of their retirements over the plains states.

    I just got back from a week off and found 472 pieces of junk in my mailbox and web advertising as relentless as ever. Someone is paying, but perhaps fewer people, considering the attitudes of some friends, they can live without it all. I wonder which demographics then are more highly represented?

    "Look ma, I got 18 more offers to make money at home and a penile enlargement and russian women are dying to meet me! Hyuk! Hyuk!"

  • by RebelTycoon (584591) on Monday December 02, 2002 @09:32AM (#4792726) Homepage
    The key is to categorize the type of porn that is being viewed.

    Teen porn would indicate a desire to return back to school for more education. This can be used to indicate a slowing in the job market or radical changes in job skills being required.

    Lesbian porn indicates a desire for more social time, expanding ones horizons, and generally a good economy, since everyone is getting more then enough of the good stuff.

    Hardcore porn would indicate a slowing economy, since you are just pounding away at the task at hand.

    Gay porn would indicate a resession, since that is most likely when you are taking it in the ass at work, so why not see how the professionals do it.

    Hope this helps with future economical models based off of the viewing habbits of porn.
  • only in theory (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ramzak2k (596734) on Monday December 02, 2002 @09:33AM (#4792728)
    I have three points ,

    Firstly, How can online activity ever be an active indicator of economic trends? Not everything done online is replicated at large in market in the real world. For example - I read news online, but dont buy any newspaper. I have browsed through catalogs of material online in amazon but havent bought much from them compared to what I would spend on totally different items in retail stores. The same applies for travel too.

    Secondly, even if they do manage to get the software that tracks information on to peoples machine. How is this very different from online votes which almost always go with a disclaimer saying "The results represent only those who have been online on the site and is not scientifically valid" ?

    They seem to have tons of predictions already [google.com]. Is it just me or does someone else see their common trend of predicting that online business is THE IN thing.
  • by ekrout (139379) on Monday December 02, 2002 @09:34AM (#4792733) Journal
    I recently learned about Zipf's Law, which uses a very simple formula to predict quantities of all sorts of things.

    It's truly amazing. For example, it accurately predicts the populations of the 10 most populous cities, the number of appearances of the 10 most oft-used words on the entire Web, etc.

    From a quick Google query: "Zipf's law, named after the Harvard linguistic professor George Kingsley Zipf (1902-1950), is the observation that frequency of occurrence of some event ( P ), as a function of the rank ( i) when the rank is determined by the above frequency of occurrence, is a power-law function Pi ~ 1/ia with the exponent a close to unity."

    Here is some more information: http://linkage.rockefeller.edu/wli/zipf/ [rockefeller.edu]
  • Hari Seldon of foundation fame (thanks to isaac assimov) was an expert at psychohistory , a science which could predict the future by studying the behavior of large mass of people. The larger the mass, the more accurate the prediction. And that was science fiction...... Well, atleast in this case it is limited to economic forcasting. But then, what kind of data tracking do they do ? I mean, for example, how will the nature of slashdot postings help decide what that user is going to buy/sell/mortgage ? and security software that reports your browsing ? it's like saying microsoft is preaching GPL...
    • Psychohistory laws in Asimov's books only applied to a large enough group of people, in the case of the Galactic Empire many billion (I don't remember how many, but many times the current population of earth). I tend to agree with that, they're not gonna get consistent results looking at just a couple of million people, and not even a random enough sample at that. (I've just re-read for the some of the Foundation books)

      Anyhow, you can make statistic say whatever you want to say, as long as you examine the "right" data...
  • "Economists say that the company's models need to be tested over several years before they can be considered accurate."

    Funny, they're making Economics out to be a bona fide science.
  • an article about the stock-market and newspaper articles. The author argued that the best sign of a incoming boost on stock-market is increase in the amount of articles about incoming recession. Meaning, when everyone already believes it must go down, in case of effective stock-market - it must be already down if people think it must, and therefore the market can only go up :).

    I guess ComScore makes use of some similar philosophy... :)

  • Efficient spyware (Score:5, Informative)

    by sh0rtie (455432) on Monday December 02, 2002 @09:50AM (#4792803)

    Reading their privacy statement [e-trends.net] it should be noted that they are an incredible security risk and this company should be treated with the contempt that they deserve, the information they take is everything from emaills to SSL traffic and should put a chill through anyone.

    What information is collected?

    During the initial registration process, we request certain information, such as name, address, e-mail address, and education, about you and other persons who live with you or have the same mailing address as you (collectively, we call this your "Household"). After you register, our Network then collects additional information about your Household's Internet behavior and that of any other computers used by members of your Household that you have configured to use the e-Trends service. This information is then combined with other e-Trends member data and other information to create an aggregate view of Internet e-commerce. e-Trends monitors your surfing, essentially logging information about the web pages that you visit and the actions that you take, such as the purchases and transactions you make. e-Trends can only monitor the Internet behavior and activity of your Household's registered and configured computers. As a member, you therefore control which computers the e-Trends service is available on. e-Trends monitors both the normal web browsing you perform, and also the activity you may have through secure sessions, such as when filling a shopping basket or filling out an application form. e-Trend's proprietary and patent pending technology allows us to see the details of secure pages while protecting such content from parties other than the site to which you are connected. We monitor these connections so we can accurately and anonymously model not only the browsing habits of Internet users, but also their shopping, registration, and other interactions as well. Although we generally monitor your Internet behavior as part of this service, e-Trends does not examine, use nor keep any instant messages or examine or use the contents of any of your e-mail messages, except to perform specific functions necessary to provide you the e-Trends service (such as scanning your e-mails to effectively search for viruses), and as a quality assurance check against and method for verifying information on the surfing and buying behavior of e-Trends members.


    Quite simply they read all your internet traffic ,including reading your personal emails! under the guise of "virus protection", they even claim they are not spyware using semantics as their excuse, and yes a quick google reveals this company is the same company that produces those "download accelerators"

    These companies should be illegal and the quicker someone sues them to oblivion the better,
    but i see that handily Comscore have this e-trends as a subsidiary company just in case someone does that it wont affect the parent company.

    buyer beware

    • Re:Efficient spyware (Score:4, Informative)

      by octalgirl (580949) on Monday December 02, 2002 @12:08PM (#4793747) Journal
      Privacy statement? It doesn't mention anything about how they will protect your privacy and data collected. Indeed, they sell access to this info for 50K a year. Just think, 1.5mill of people's credit card and bank statements, surfing habits for the whole family and instant messages. Packaged in a very misleading sentence "does not examine" then later "except to perform necessary functions" - so basically this statement nullifies itself. My God, they actually verify your bank statement to make sure you really earn what you told them?

      "Although we generally monitor your Internet behavior as part of this service, e-Trends does not examine, use nor keep any instant messages or examine or use the contents of any of your e-mail messages, except to perform specific functions necessary to provide you the e-Trends service (such as scanning your e-mails to effectively search for viruses), and as a quality assurance check against and method for verifying information on the surfing and buying behavior of e-Trends members."

      Somehow these marketers have pulled off the biggest scam of all, to finally get people to agree to simply hand over their lives, SSN numbers and all! I hope someone gets caught in an identity theft crisis and discovers it was because this company sold their private and financial lives to a third party. Really, some hood could simply round up 50K and have the info delivered to them. As usual I'm sure 99% of the 1.5 mill have never read this statement and they are probably the same type of user who will click on an email attachment every time - and thus believe it is very nice of this company to provide "security" for them. They even fooled the reporter!
    • Whenever I encounter a box with any of their helper apps on (sometimes it happens at work with an ignorant user) we deem it contaminated and do a full scrub.

      Given the info they admit to getting -shopping card info- we have to do more than this. I mean, with surf watching and email tracking, this app could be an integral part of the new Total Information Awareness program, a kind of "Carnivore@home". Why have the FBI monitor you upstream when your PC does it all for them.

      I wonder if there is any way to detect the app and warn on a web site that they need ad-aware. I could do it with an activeX control...imagine what we could do if web sites started putting an activeX version of adaware up on their shopping cart pages 'for security reasons'.

  • This is nothing new. Companies were already giving us 'free' programs that 'speed up our connections' and 'improve our security' years ago!They're called Trojans.
  • The company gains access to people's Internet travelogues by giving them free security software...

    This makes me laugh so much. They give you 'free security software' to prevent your computer and privacy from being compromised in exchange for compromising your privacy.... The paradox is incredible :)
  • by LostCluster (625375) on Monday December 02, 2002 @10:12AM (#4792930)
    What bothers me here is that the programs that are being used to bring spyware to the common user are programs that do things for which either there already exists an spyware-free solution, or is a program us /.ers could write in minutes.

    Speeding up an Internet connection is more-or-less a myth in the first place, you can't make software to cause a modem to go any faster than it goes physically. The only thing that really can be done is to make sure there's nothing stupid in the Windows registry slowing down the connection... and guess what, in older versions of Windows there is! Microsoft initially set the Maximum Transfer Unit (MTU) to something that made sense on a LAN connection, but caused an annoying number of retransmitted frames on a modem connection. Lower that number to something sane, and web pages will appear to the user to be faster. However, that didn't really speed up the modem, it's now just not wasting as many cycles on bad data. Changing the MTU number is a registry hack, the program needs to only be run once... no need for it to be there on every boot.

    Another such program syncs your computer's clock with to official U.S. Government time. That's a cool and useful function, but it's really just using the Network Time Protocol (NTP) standard to contact government servers. Anybody who bothers to read the docs can write their own program to do that. Microsoft has even built NTP into Windows XP, although once-a-week updates isn't exactly enough for most users who care about their clock accuracy.

    Another program hitches its ride offering the local thermometer reading from your local TV station's WeatherNet system in an icon in your system tray. Cool feature... but wait a second here. What if you don't live near a WeatherNet site? Oh, that's simple, it taps into the National Weather Service data to get you a report. But NWS's data is public, paid for by your tax dollars. The info is available on both FTP and HTTP servers that are absolutely free to access.

    Open source projects could knock these "Download me!" programs out of existance. Why don't we?
    • Open source projects could knock these "Download me!" programs out of existence. Why don't we?

      A lot of it is already there..

      Time sync with NIST:
      http://www.boulder.nist.gov/timefreq/servic e/its.h tm
      There are hundreds of free/open source time tools out there.

      Changing MTU, not a program but a quick guide:
      http://www.winguides.com/registry/display. php/30/

      Download Accelerator, although not open source, it does claim to be free and free from spyware and adware:
      http://www.freshdevices.com/freshdown.htm l

      I've used various freeware/public domain/open source weather tools before in the past so I know they are out there also.

      There is almost always a spyware free/freeware/open source alternative to do simple tasks in the Win world, people just need to look for them. The problem is most of spyware apps are very deceiving or blatantly fuzzy about what they actually do and people do not look elsewhere.

    • Speeding up an Internet connection is more-or-less a myth in the first place, you can't make software to cause a modem to go any faster than it goes physically.

      I'm not sure how those download accelerators work, exactly, however I imagine they might change Windows' TCP behavior and open multiple TCP connections where only one was opened before. As long as the first uplink isn't the bottleneck, this would get that user more bandwidth, albeit at the expense of others.

  • by Zarf (5735) on Monday December 02, 2002 @10:25AM (#4793012) Journal
    After reading the article and deciding to ignore the already made point that this is an invasion of privacy:

    This kind of data if collected well could very well help in profiling online trends and giving subscribers to this data a "leg-up" on their competitors. That's True. BUT, I doubt that this data can be used for predicting meat-world trends. The only people you are dealing with are the ones who are both willing to buy online and are willing to allow spyware on their boxen. I'd guess that the fact that you're talking about a select group of unsophisticated users, who are yet sophisticated enough to research and/or purchase online, would mean that the data is self-censoring.

    It's sort of like surveying people who hate telemarketers over the phone. You'll only talk to a very few people and likely have a useless data set. It would be like a survey on invasion of privacy issues only from people willing to report to the surveyor thier SSN.

    Catch my drift?

    The resultant data would influence an investor house to make an unwise decision and bet on the wrong dog in the grand dog-race called the Stock market. The data provider can dope up the right dogs to make itself some money. That's what I think of whenever I read about these "trend" predicting companies. That's just me though.
  • 1) Make something people want to download.
    2) Add some hidden spyware in the product.
    3) Sell tracking information to the big corporations and make $$$.
    • 3) Sell tracking information to the big corporations and make $$$.
      Shouldn't this read: 3) Profit!!!
    • Re:Spyware (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Todd Knarr (15451) on Monday December 02, 2002 @11:26AM (#4793451) Homepage

      Except that in ComScore's case, #2 is "Provide that something for free if people agree to be tracked by spyware.". If this is the ComScore I'm familiar with (and it looks like it is), they're up-front about what they're doing. You get their package knowing that you're becoming the equivalent of a Nielsen family with every single page you view being tracked and recorded. I personally wouldn't agree to that, but I imagine there's a lot of people who wouldn't care (or who have another computer for the browsing they don't want recorded).

  • by krygny (473134) on Monday December 02, 2002 @10:44AM (#4793144)


    Consider marketing research firms that get paid boatloads of money to put people into demographic categories. Now, consider Microsoft's Passport initiative that tracks you online, where you surf, what you buy, where you live, work, and travel, and can infer all kinds of personal info like your domestic status. You are no longer part of a demographic group, you are a demographic; one of 200 million. How much would advertisers be willing to pay Microsoft for access to that database?

    "How perfectly Goddam delightful it all is, to be sure." - Robert Crumb
  • I've recently started my own, informal, survey based on amazon.com's top sales and "movers and shakers" lists. Of course the data is skewed towards certain groups of people, bu among those groups there should be some interesting trends, like how the purchases are affected by the entertainment industry, holidays, new market releases, major price drops, etc. Maybe /. will let me post my results in a few months.
  • What they can do (Score:2, Interesting)

    by yppiz (574466)
    I used to manage the logs for a company that collected web usage on 150k users.

    You can normalize for your sample by comparing your group against a known baseline. What is interesting to me is that the "normalized" groups like what Neilsen uses are tiny (3000 users) and thus have their own flaws (undercounting Goatse visits since their population of users is so tiny they're missing out on all sorts of behavior).

    Here are some things you could do.

    1) track e-trade, schwab, and yahoo finance to see what stocks people are checking - a good way to anticipate market changes/volatility

    2) monitor site traffic for e-commerce sites to gauge how much business they are doing.

    3) accurately measure how many click thoughs banner sites get (almost none)

    etc.

    --Pat / zippy@cs.brandeis.edu

  • by psplay (572886) <J@NOSpam.psplay.com> on Monday December 02, 2002 @12:14PM (#4793805)
    This can only Economic predictions are based on a sample on people who "download free software onto their computer".

    Not exactly a random distribution of the populous, is it?

    They are already restricting the data this software collects, as its source of data pertains to a specific sample base:

    1, (PC) Computer owners
    2, Home Users
    3, The type of fool that downloads something willy nilly on their computer.

    Given this conditions, the survey base could not really exceed 50% of the range of population. Therefore can really only be 50% accurate.

    (yes I pulled the 50% out my head, based on my survey of my coworkers).
    • You can get high accuracy with a small representative sample. You can adjust for the bias in a skewed (non-representative) sample. Check out any intro text on statistics.

      --Pat / zippy@cs.brandeis.edu
  • by T.E.D. (34228) on Monday December 02, 2002 @12:36PM (#4793975)
    ...is that there isn't enough historical data on past internet usage to prove its all baloney yet.

    By the time there is, they ought to be able to pump out quite a few subscriptions, books, and speaking tours.

    On the bright side, at least now we know where the "Y2K" baloney purveors went. Even better, they are leaving us coders alone this time.
  • So let me get this straight... global economic trends will be predicted by tracking browsing habits of people who use download 'accelerators'? I sincerely hope nothing important will be decided on these results.
  • in other news, brash young entrepeneurs
    talk shit, and blow smoke up people's asses
    while stodgy old men try to discredit their
    competitors by pointing out their poor
    business models.
  • 1). Figures are going to be really skewered by the fact that people who will download and use a "download faster !" utility are a subset of the population whos behavior differs from the rest of the population.
    2). Unless these people are actually collecting details about financial transactions done over the web (that cannot be legal right ?), the figures they get will be page hits and sites visited which does not really correlate to actual sales figures.
    3). How good are their statistical methodologies, you can find fairly strong corrilations between any two sets of data by chosing the right stat functions.
    4). Don't we have enough trend indicators already that are far more accurate than spyware collected date ?
    5). Of course if they actually collected credit card numbers and looked up transactions then they would have better results. Anybody want to tell them that ? :-)
  • Maybe if all the slashdot user would download thier spyware and only enable it for 10 minutes a day we can browse a few agreed upon sites for about 10 minutes a day we could make thier data reflect our views.
    Let them think that we are all buying beanie babies or some other stupid thing.
  • Will be Silicon based, but this time it will come with tassles and edible undies

A consultant is a person who borrows your watch, tells you what time it is, pockets the watch, and sends you a bill for it.

Working...