If you follow our blog you’ll already know how skeptical we are about the audiences digital broadcasters and publishers claim. We like independently audited figures. We especially like someone to be able to tell us that we have got for our clients, what we’ve paid for and preferably it shouldn’t be the same person that’s been doing the selling!
You’ll be interested then in a report today that claims that there is a significant threat to digital publishers’ ability to collect data that can be used to target advertising that could potentially exclude most of their audience connecting to sites while they are at work.
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are secure loops on a network that almost all business users use to access the internet in offices or within their work organisations and worryingly for publishers it makes users invisible. These networks are readily available and easy to set up giving users security and as the name suggests privacy and are especially common in developing markets like China where the VPN can be used to restrict access to any sites deemed undesirable. This is how whole countries ban sites like Facebook and Twitter and this is reportedly becoming more common here as well.
The report explores how passive web analytics have skewed understanding of the global internet population.
It argues that trends in VPN usage, device sharing and mobile-only access mean that hundreds of millions of internet users are effectively invisible in traditional internet studies to the tune of a staggering 410 million people worldwide using various software and technology to help them mask their true location and to remain anonymous while online.
This is definitely an issue. As one broadcaster claimed that 90% of traffic to its Chinese service seemed to come from the USA. The other impact is that it drives mobile use so reiterates another pet topic of ours about the need to have properly designed mobile sites.
So back to the issue of measurement. Just how do digital publishers account for these missing millions? Well the conclusion of the report is pretty damning – simply they discovered that none of the established measurement systems know so they guess!!!! Site analytics actively account for VPN restricted users and proportion a percentage based on known estimates. Terrific!
So next time you read a web traffic or search analytics report and wonder “is this right” – it probably isn’t!
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