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YouGov tests the waters on internet snooping

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Participants in a regular YouGov survey were recently confronted with an odd request to download software that would track users' surfing habits.

The July edition of the monthly Oracle (as in prediction) survey asked question about recipients' work and employer before concluding with an internet tracking punt that smelled of something close to spyware.

Would you be willing to participate in a study of people's internet usage. This involves downloading a piece of software onto your computer to track which websites you visit. It will not slow down your machine

YouGov said no software was actually offered and the request was for a international project that its US office was running on behalf of a (unnamed) client. Asked to explain further, the survey organisation said it was essentially testing the waters on whether or not survey panellists would be happy to have their surfing habits tracked.

YouGov is constantly looking for ways to improve the survey experience for its panellists and carries out regular screening on a whole range of activities. The questions on this occasion were simply part of  a standard screening exercise to measure feasibility for such a project - we do not currently have a commissioned study of this nature.  At any given time we conduct studies with the agreed participation of our panellists that provide us information that allow us to improve our services.

Installing unverified software on corporate PCs, even from trusted sources - especially in cases (like this one) where the purpose of the technology is unclear - is risky.

The UK-based Reg reader and survey participant, who tipped us off about the odd offer, said that perhaps YouGov was trying to gauge people's online security sense. "If this is the case, then well done YouGov, and I look forward to some report on how gullible people are," he said.

If YouGov was seriously considering projects involving the tracking of users' surfing habits then the privacy and data protection objections would be huge, especially in Europe.

YouGov is a well established internet-based market research firm that started off in the UK around 10 years ago and has since expanded to the US, Germany and the Middle East. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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