Adware Report: Yet More Misleading Marketing...

An otherwise excellent article at Insecure.Org which discusses the withdrawal of Webroot from COAST (Consortium of Anti-Spyware Technology Vendors), makes mention of a "survey" Castlecops' conducted which was presumably conducted to capture public opinion about the Aluria-WhenU debate.

If you haven't been following along, we've been somewhat critical of Castlecops and other spyware commentators for their alarmist stance that they've taken regarding Aluria's decision to de-list WhenU as a spyware company. Our view has been all along that if any company chooses to go legit, then the anti-spyware community should embrace them with open arms. Castlecops (and others) disagreed and remained critical of Aluria. Since then, we've seen Lavasoft and PestPatrol follow in Aluria's footsteps. We consider ourselves vindicated.

Are our criticisms of Castlecops unwarranted? Their hearts are in the right place, but our complaints stand. The above article irresponsibly mentions this sham of a survey conducted by Castlecops which had but a single question:

Do you trust Aluria's Spyware Eliminator after the WhenU Deal?

Yes - 14.00% (240 votes)
No - 86.00% (1474 votes)

Should you take the above survey at face value, you would be inclined to think that most people think rather poorly of Aluria (and now Lavasoft and PestPatrol) due to the de-listing. However, the above survey suffers from two errors which are well known to most marketers:

1. Leading Question - the above question leads respondents into clicking 'No' because of the way it is worded.

Example: "Do you trust John after he donated all that money to the orphans?" ... no, of course I don't! (I don't know why, but it's obvious I shouldn't. That lousy John.)

2. Sampling Error - the above survey was conducted on Castlecops, a site visited largely by tech-savvy security professionals. These are hardly mainstream computer users and no survey data collected on Castlecops should be used as an indicator of how ordinary people might feel about an issue.

To prove this point, we took a survey of our own to get a more accurate picture of how people really feel about this. We asked visitors to this site two questions:

1. Are you familiar with the fact that Aluria has delisted WhenU as a spyware company?
2. If the answer for the above question was yes, then do you trust Aluria's Spyware Eliminator after the WhenU Deal?

Note that we left the wording on the leading question the same in order to isolate the effect of the sampling error. Our readers tend to be very mainstream computer users (they self-report only an average level of knowledge about spyware) between the ages of 35 and 50.

Our results

Overall, 46.6% of our readers stated that they didn't trust Aluria. The other 53.4% stated that they did (in other words, the delisting of WhenU was not seen as a breach of trust).

We then divided up the survey respondents by those who had some familiarity with the WhenU delisting vs. those who hadn't. Only 19.4% of our readers knew about WhenU delisting. A full 80.6% had never heard of it.

Of those who had heard of the delisting, a whopping 72.7% stated that they still trusted Aluria. 27.3% said that they no longer trusted Aluria.

Of those who had not heard of the delisting, only 41.7% said they did still trusted Aluria, while 58.3% stated they no longer trusted them.

What did we learn from this?

First, the Castlecops survey was not an accurate reflection of how mainstream computer users truly feel about the WhenU delisting. Their survey result reflected a far more paranoid population of security professionals.

Second, most people who had heard of the delisting (and presumably had formed their own opinion about it) felt that it was not something that breached their trust in the company. On the other hand, those who had no prior knowledge of it indicated that they no longer trusted Aluria. This is what we would expect to see from a leading question such as the one in the Castlecops survey.

So are the mainstream users right or are the security professionals? One could argue that the security professionals, by virtue of their expertise, have a more informed opinion and thus should be listened to. We agree with that, and so we sliced our data one last time. Among the respondents to our surveys who claimed to have "above average" to "expert" knowledge about spyware, 58.3% still trusted Aluria.

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