Should We Believe Internet Polls?

I think we should not. It is easy to cheat. If you want to know how, read bellow.

You are aware of many Internet pools on various Web sites. I can remember days when having poll on you web was one of pillars to increase numbers of visitors. Other pillars were: often update or content change, news, links from others site and, of course most important good ranking at search engines.

Polls are very interesting. How we can know if their results are honest and accurate? Hones voting means that one unique visitor has right for one vote. That is minimal criteria. But what is one visitor? Is it one person, one IP address, one computer, one Web browser, one user with user name and password?

What are usual poll logging methods to provide honest voting? Some of polls don’t log voters at all. But, basically, most of polls use logging by:

  • Cookie
  • IP address
  • Cookie & IP address
  • User name

Cookie seems as honest way on first sight. It means one user from one machine and one browser means one vote. If you have two or three browsers installed, you might want to vote 2, 3 or more times. Or simply you can delete cookie and vote as many times as you wish.

How to delete cookie? Not a big deal. You can do it in Firefox very easy. Chose Tools -> Clear Private Data.

Firefox Clear Privacy Data

And than check Cookies box.

Firefox Clear Cookies

And also in IExplorer – Go to Tools -> Internet options, General Tab and chose Delete in Browsing history section.

IExplorer Delete Browsing History

What about IP address logging? It is not honest voting system as many networks have one IP address. So it allows one vote. But, very often, behind one single public IP address there is network / organization with many people. However only one person can vote. Contrary, one single IP address doesn’t mean certainly that you can vote just one time. What if you wish to vote more times? You can just use tools that maintain your anonymity on Internet. For example you can use Tor. And with Tor you can vote almost as many as times you want. Number of times is limited by number of Tor servers around globe. Just click on click on Use a New Identity and voila.

Vidalia Control Panel

You should have in mind that Tor only protects Internet applications that are configured to send their traffic through Tor — it doesn’t magically anonymize all your traffic just because you install it. It is recommended you use Firefox with the Torbutton extension. 

If a poll system uses combination of Cookie & IP address, you can use deletion of cookies in addition to Tor tools and its features. This will help to vote dishonestly.

System with user name and password is pretty honest voting system. Its problems are the same as problems with general user-name / password based security systems and its pitfalls.

If poll doesn’t log votes it is not worth considering. You simple shouldn’t believe its results. You can only consider it as way for site owners to show that they have poll and have lots of visitors who vote. Results are not of any value.

And what we can conclude about Internet polls? In most cases these systems are pretty invaluable. If somebody is interested in to jeopardize voting he can do it with some knowledge. Only voting of value is based on user name / password scheme. But it attracts a very few voters. People generally doesn’t want to be bothered with registration and logging to your Web in order just to vote.

I hope that Google AdSense program have good way of handling this issues. Otherwise it is easy to fake somebody other AdSense clicks and to get his AdSense account closed by Google because of fake clicks. There is post about it on this blog.

And couple words about Tor. What Tor is?

Tor is a software project that helps you defend against traffic analysis, a form of network surveillance that threatens personal freedom and privacy, confidential business activities and relationships, and state security. Tor protects you by bouncing your communications around a distributed network of relays run by volunteers all around the world: it prevents somebody watching your Internet connection from learning what sites you visit, and it prevents the sites you visit from learning your physical location. Tor works with many of your existing applications, including web browsers, instant messaging clients, remote login, and other applications based on the Internet’s TCP protocol.

You can download Tor & Privoxy & Vidalia & Torbutton bundle for free here and use it.  But remember:

…then please don’t just install it and go on. You need to change some of your habits, and reconfigure your software! Tor by itself is NOT all you need to maintain your anonymity. There are several major pitfalls to watch out for…

Enjoy polls including ones on my blog. And be carefull with its results.

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