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If media are going to claim an insight into public opinion, they should do it correctly

Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 14.02.17By Simon Davies

There are a few raised eyebrows over a poll published last week by the pop zine TechWeek Europe. The mag had apparently “forgotten” to include Google in its hit list of cloud providers that it had asked readers to rank in terms of how much trust the key brands attract.

Omitting Google from a list of prominent cloud providers requires several crates of bad whisky

By way of background, TechWeek had recently instigated the poll as part of its series on reader opinions on a spectrum of topics. Entitled “What’s The NSA Scandal Done To Your Attitudes?” it comes right to the point by asking “Following the NSA surveillance scandal, which brand do you trust the least?” and then goes on to list Microsoft (at the head of the list), Amazon, DropBox, Apple, GoDaddy, SwissCom, ArtMotion and Yahoo.

A European provider, Swisscom, was also included in the lsit, presumably by way of comparison with non-EU services.

A cynic might observe that omitting Google from a list of prominent cloud providers requires either several crates of bad whisky or some dubious sleight of hand. Not even the overworked writers at Zimbabwe’s Teqno magazine forget about Google.

Of course the TechWeek poll could have been portrayed as illustrative rather than exhaustive, except that the article covering the poll results admitted that TechWeek forgot to add Google:

“We should apologise for not including Google in this poll – this was an honest mistake, and does not show any favouritism on our part.”

If TechWeek had made an honest mistake by simply forgetting to include Google – and the omission didn’t indicate bias – then why did the magazine make the headline of the covering story a direct attack on Microsoft?

Using the line of reasoning that the forest can be overlooked for the trees, maybe a busy tech team could feasibly overlook Google. Even Google overlooks important matters. Like when it overlooked the capability of its Street View Vehicles to capture WiFi content. Or when it overlooked European data protection laws when it created its new privacy policy. And so on. That’s why public sector use of Google’s cloud services have been severely restricted in places like Sweden and Norway – another not insignificant matter that TechWeek shouldn’t have easily overlooked.

But if TechWeek had made an honest mistake by simply forgetting to include Google – and the omission didn’t indicate bias – then why did the magazine make the headline of the covering story a direct attack on Microsoft? The headline reads:

“Since the NSA Scandal, TechWeek Readers Are Suspicious Of Microsoft”.

Isn’t TechWeek being a little disingenuous? If it had made an honest, though critically important omission, then surely either the poll should have been re-set or the headline adjusted from the singular to the plural?

“Since the NSA Scandal, TechWeek Readers Are Suspicious Of US cloud providers.”

See; accurate, even-handed and ethical. As it stands, however, the current situation is like leaving the Republicans out of a poll on US political views and then proclaiming the result as a win for the Democrats.

To be fair on TechWeek, the article did try to correct potentially negative perceptions by claiming that it was not launching a direct attack on Microsoft, but was trying to highlight the damage done by the US government. Fair enough, but the mystery of why Google was omitted still persists.

Few people would expect any stressed tech magazine to conduct a reader poll with exact scientific precision, but this example appears to drift dangerously close to unethical conduct.

No-one has escaped the NSA scandal undamaged – not Google nor Microsoft nor Yahoo – but most are making efforts to limit the damage and build reform. Let’s focus first on the good work being done by each company to rectify the problem, and next let’s intensify our efforts to bring the NSA and other spy agencies to account.