From today’s Independent:
“Government departments are breaking secrecy rules governing the handling of confidential statistics on average once every three months, the new head of the UK Statistics Authority has warned.”
Ministers currently get access to official statistics 24 hours before they are made public, with the government line being that such early access is necessary to allow ministers to respond appropriately when questions.
But Andrew Dilnot, who replaced Michael Scholar as Statistics Authority chairman this month, reckons that once every three months such statistics manage to find their way into the hands of unauthorised persons. This, he said, could facilitate insider trading, especially when it involves data that is market-sensitive.
Like his predecessor, Dilnot says he will push for a reduction in the amount of pre-release access that ministers get, which is something both the Conservative and Liberal Democrats wanted to see – before they were elected to government, that is.
Plans are afoot to introduce a Gulf-wide system that uses people-meters to measure TV audiences in the region, according to local reports.
The UAE is currently the only country to use people meters to count television audiences – that is until Saudi Arabia’s system gets up and running in the next 12 to 18 months – but a consultant working on the Saudi project says that a region-wide scheme is in the offing.
Thomas Kuruvilla, managing director of consultancy Arthur D. Little Middle East, told The National that “preliminary” talks about a system covering all Gulf Cooperation Council countries – including Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman – have already taken place.
He said: “There is a clear appreciation that we need to have GCC-wide TV audience measurement. There is a willingness and ambition to move towards that.” It’s hoped the development of such a system would boost the region’s advertising industry, which is reported to be worth $4bn.
Oh dear, Oprah Winfrey. The doyenne of American daytime TV recently tweeted her nine million followers urging them to watch her new show Oprah’s Next Chapter – “especially if they have a Nielsen box”. Winfrey later took down the offending tweet, at the request of the TV audience measurement firm, saying that she “intended no harm”.
But the ratings firm has already started examining the situation, as it takes seriously any attempt to influence panel homes to change their viewing habits. The firm said: “In accordance with our policies and procedures, Nielsen is reviewing this incident with our clients, and we may withhold, breakout and/or make a note in the ratings.”
This week’s Economist has a fascinating article on the secretive work of the analysis team within the Obama 2012 re-election campaign.
Headed by chief scientist Rayid Ghani, the former analytics research lead at Accenture Labs, the paper says that the team will attempt to mine a “torrent” of data – commercially available consumer data, voter rolls and information gleaned from door-to-door canvassing and phone banks.
The aim of all that is to “predict voting patterns, allowing the Obama campaign to target its spending more accurately and cost-effectively”.
Click here to read the article in full.
Nathan Eagle, founder and CEO of mobile phone crowdsourcing company Jana, is nominated on Wired magazine’s Smart List 2012: 50 people who will change the world.
Each nominee was selected by a “top achiever in their field”, who were tasked with nominating “one fresh, exciting thinker who is influencing them, someone whose ideas or experience they feel are transformative.”
In Eagle’s case this was Esther Dyson, an investor and entrepreneur focused on breakthrough innovation across a number of diverse fields. She said: “Nathan Eagle is not just smart; he applies his intelligence to the real world, with both vision and a business model.”
Jana, which was founded as TxtEagle in 2009, recruits people to perform ‘microtasks’ by sending information by text message; incentivising them to participate by using free mobile airtime as a reward. As well as carrying out consumer surveys and advertising audits, the approach has been used to monitor hospital blood supplies and to populate GPS systems.
Dyson added: “His company, Jana, employs thousands and, ultimately, he employs millions of people in emerging markets as market researchers.”
Guest post by Bronwen Morgan
Online retailer Amazon could be about to embark on a venture that will see it offer data analytics services to businesses, according to reports.
The New York Times’ Bits blog quotes “specialists in data science” who say that Amazon has become increasingly interested in the business models of companies that create and sell pattern-finding algorithms for large data sets.
And Amazon already stores vast amounts of data for companies through its web services business, so…
“Rumour and speculation” was Amazon’s response to the blog, but Forrester Research VP Kyle McNabb said: “Amazon has the expertise and the computing power to do something like this. They could rent an analytics engine to people on a quarterly basis, possibly offer to match your data to other large data sets and find something useful.”
Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has accused Bell Pottinger of “ethical blindness” and the site has suspended ten accounts linked to the firm.
One of the pages it tinkered with was that of Naked Eye Research – its sister company in the Chime group.
Wikipedia’s records reveal that the page for the ethnographic research agency was created in February and quickly flagged by another user as being overly promotional and full of irrelevant details. That user eventually removed much of the fluff.
But in May a user calling themselves Biggleswiki reinstated most of the deleted material and made more changes, adding a logo, details about Chime, a biography of Naked Eye’s founder Nick Leon and a list of the agency’s clients.
The changes leave Naked Eye with a rather flattering Wikipedia entry, and an unusually thorough one for such a small company.
The page also says that the agency “has been credited with introducing the co-discovery method to video ethnography” – a claim supported by a link to an Esomar conference paper written by Nick Leon himself (and only available on a paid-for basis) and a Research-Live article which, for the record, states no such thing.
Bell Pottinger, which works closely with Chime’s research division and also represents TNS, has since admitted that Biggleswiki is one of the accounts its team uses, even though the profile (now blocked) described the user as an employee of an engineering company and made no mention of the PR firm.
Neither Bell Pottinger nor Naked Eye had responded to calls seeking comment at the time of publication.
Of course, anyone can edit Wikipedia at the click of a button – that’s the point of it. And Bell Pottinger didn’t break any rules – because Wikipedia doesn’t really have any rules (apart from ‘ignore all rules’). But it did break some very clear guidelines. The principle that Wikipedia is written from a neutral point of view is “absolute and non-negotiable”, the site says.
Representatives and employees of organisations are “very strongly discouraged” (their emphasis) in Wikipedia’s guidelines from creating or altering entries if there might be a conflict of interest. Editing in the interests of public relations – aside from obvious corrections – is “particularly frowned upon”. Bold type and frowning is pretty much as strict as Wikipedia gets.
The changes made to Naked Eye’s page are relatively innocuous in comparison to some of the other Wikipedia edits that Bell Pottinger is accused of – including removing references on clients’ pages to drug convictions and other allegations.
Still, we can’t help but wonder how many other companies have succumbed to temptation and tweaked their Wikipedia entries to correct perceived inaccuracies or omissions, or to make them more complimentary. It certainly doesn’t require the help of a PR company – boasting that you can fix negative Wikipedia entries (as Bell Pottinger bosses were taped saying) is a bit like boasting that you can count up to three. Whether or not it saves you or your clients from bad publicity is, as we’ve seen in the last few days, a different matter.
To be fair, Wikipedia’s guidelines do point out that attempts to improperly influence the site are “routinely exposed and can be reported adversely in the media”, leading sometimes to “extreme” embarrassment. Nobody can say they weren’t warned.
Researchers often look at ad spend predictions as a rough guide to how their industry might fare. In which case, the latest revised forecasts from WPP’s GroupM, Interpublic’s Magna Global and Publicis’ ZenithOptimedia don’t bring much cheer.
Each predicts that global ad spending will grow by various amounts next year but the growth figures themselves have been scaled back.
For GroupM, spend will now be up 6.4% to $522bn, down from the 6.8% forecast in July.
Magna Global, meanwhile, expects growth of 5%, revised down from 6.5%, to $449bn.
And finally, ZenithOptimedia predicts ad spend will rise by 4.7% to $486bn, down from the 5.3% rate anticipated in October.
My favourite parts of the older James Bond films (the ones prior to the Jason Bourne-influenced re-imagining) were the bits where MI6’s resident boffin Q would demonstrate his latest invention – typically a high-tech piece of kit cunningly disguised as a harmless, everyday object, like a pen or a desk lamp.
Unilever’s R&D department takes a similar approach when it comes to inventing devices to understand consumer behaviour.
In March this year, we heard the tale of Unilever’s spy toothbrush, which used in-built accelerometers to record when and for how long people in China would clean their teeth. This week the company unveiled the “shower sensor”.
Behavioural scientist Hilde Hendrickx told the BBC how Unilever designed a piece of kit to pick up on the noise water makes when running through a pipe and to detect changes in water temperature so as to monitor people’s shower habits without the need for surveys.
As with the toothbrush experiment, Unilever was looking to get round the unreliability of self-reporting and avoid the need for in-person monitoring. “People would not take too kindly to someone standing next to them with a clipboard” while in the shower, said Hendrickx.
The company logged 2,600 showers by 100 families over a 10-day period and found that the average shower lasted eight minutes – longer than previously assumed.
Click here to read the article in full.
Police in Cleveland, in the northeast of England, are under fire from the chairman of the local Police Federation for spending over £25,000 for a year-long project measuring confidence in the force among residents.
Steve Matthews, chairman of the Cleveland branch of the Police Federation has criticised the expenditure as “unnecessary” as the force wrestles with budget cuts of £17m over the next two years.
Matthews said: “In these times of austerity, this does seem a little bit unnecessary. There are other ways of measuring police confidence without having to spend this sort of money on random calls to the public.”
The Northern Echo reports that Cleveland Police hired SPA Future Thinking to run the survey. It says there is already a callback system in police which re-contacts victims of crime or people who have called the police to find out if they were satisfied with the response they received.
The police stand by the survey, saying it has provided them with “a great deal of valuable information”. I guess the question is, how valuable? Is the information something you can put a price on? Or, as our cover story last month put it, what’s it worth?