However, lately, representatives of the online business sector started to notice some inaccuracies that lead to a distorted image on the market. The market players also point that because of changes in data after modifying methodology, it is becoming harder to forecast future trends.
Market players capture inaccuracies
Representatives of major Lithuanian online media share cases when they had themselves to find the flaws of data and prove it to "Gemius" after suspecting that the released data might be not correct.
"As players in an online media sector, we hire "Gemius" to create our currency, which is the data provided by "Gemius". Probably the main thing that we are missing is stability. To be short, we have to spot the flaws by ourselves and spend some time convincing "Gemius" about them", - says Ramūnas Šaučikovas, the CEO of news portal "15min.lt".
He emphasizes that the company he represents does not question the data provided by "Gemius" but they prefer if the market research company would be more attentive to the needs of market players and would provide better customer support.
Vytautas Benokraitis, CEO of major Lithuanian news website DELFI, shares the change that happened August-September this year. At the time the numbers of readers fell significantly and DELFI contacted "Gemius" to let them know about the unsuspected change in numbers. The news portal got an answer from "Gemius" that the change was seasonal. Nevertheless, IT specialists from DELFI managed to spot that at the time the update of "AdBlock" was released and it did not let "Gemius" see some user data. After the research company admitted that there was a flaw.
Tautvydas Mikalajūnas, CEO of the news website "lrytas.lt", adds that even if the data are not completely correct there should always be transparent.
"Of course, there might be some inaccuracies, but everyone needs to know what data how and why are not accurate.", comments he adding that mentioned cases devalue the online currency.
Inga Cimolonskaitė, CEO of "Gemius Baltic" does not deny that inaccuracies happen and explains that there are some reasons for that. First of all, it might happen because the data from users (readers) might be blocked by third parties. Also, inaccuracies might be caused by non-human traffic or technological changes.
"Usually it takes a long time to figure out the exact reason. Therefore, collaboration with market players is very important", says she.
Unsolved issue of "Instant Articles"
One of the cases that took a lot of attention in the market happened last year after "Gemius" announced that the company can provide real users’ data from different platforms (computers, smart tablets, and smartphones) also including the data of people that read news from Lithuanian website via "Facebook" tool "Instant Articles".
Although "Gemius" assured that data will not be duplicated it happened. After some research, it was clear that every reader of "Instant Articles" was seen as a unique user. That had an impact on final websites' statistics. After some time "Gemius" announced corrected numbers. Despite that, to this day the data in "Gemius" website stays inaccurate. I. Cimolonskaitė said that the decision to recalculate data just for one month was taken together with the Association of Online Media.
"We do not have plans to recalculate another data that was not mentioned in the agreement", she states.
T. Mikalajūnas noticed that the biggest flaw he sees in "Gemius" research is related to the tool of "Instant Articles". "This part of the data is not included in the final results. Therefore, all news portals have direct losses because they cannot use this tool. If they use it they know that statistics are not accurate. It reminds me of distorting mirrors that devalue the statistics", he comments.
I. Cimolonskaitė points that that the data from "Instant Articles" is included in "Gemius" statistics. According to her, "Facebook" has created two different cookies that do not share information, that is why duplication of cookies happens.
"Because of this reason it was decided to see all "Facebook" "Instant Articles" data see as "non-cookie", she adds.
However, the online media market was not happy with this solution. Some players, knowing that "Gemius" counts only page views, visits and time spent, but not real users, decided not to use this "Facebook" tool anymore. Others are still publishing their content via "Instant Articles" even knowing that some real users are left out of the statistics.
Impact of malicious actions
Another problem that is faced by the online business - part of the data is not recorded because of malicious actions. For example, as mentioned before at the beginning of August a new plugin was released that targeted DELFI. Because of that DELFI lost around 100 000 users in one-month statistics. After DELFI proofed it "Gemius" admitted that it had happened.
On its website, the market research company noted that in the statistics of August 2019 some audience was not included in DELFI statistics. "It had an impact not only for DELFI statistics, but for all share indicators such as Time Share-Internet", stated in the website.
I. Cimolonskaitė claims that it is impossible to completely avoid the impact of third parties. "In many cases, we can act only retrospectively. We follow trends, blockages, and potential threats, we also create rules that malicious acts were avoided", she stresses.
Changes lead to chaos
One more issue that raises concerns in the market is that after each update in "Gemius" methodology the data drastically changes.
T. Mikalajūnas remembers when in 2018 "Gemius" introduced new methodology "Gemius Overnight" the change in numbers was drastic.
"After we saw those huge changes in numbers (in computer and smartphones browsing) we started questioning if this is adequate numbers. And yes, "Gemius" admitted that this methodology was introduced too late. But that raised another question. Does that mean that with an introduction of new methodology, all previous data was not accurate? Maybe in the future, we will also figure out that "Overnight" is also including some data and some not. Now a new measurement technology "Sonarus" is introduced. The good point is that it measures more precise, but each update in the methodology is like an earthquake for us. Everything changes drastically and you start thinking if you should trust statistics that are presented" says he.
R. Šaučikovas adds that because of the mentioned cases the problem of comparability of data and monitoring appears.
"Now it is difficult to compare the results of this half-year of this year with the same period last year because during a year we always see something changing. The market of online media already expressed their preference that it would be better to avoid changes because after each update of the methodology, there is a difference in the data and you cannot do conclusions about the real change or reasons of change", he comments. He also notices that doubts about the accuracy of statistics sometimes hold him from taking some decisions.
"For example, I am studying the statistics of August and September and I cannot figure out what had an impact on them. At the same time I see that there might be some mechanical or methodological flaws that lead to fluctuation of data", guesses he.
V. Benokraitis discusses that maybe times changed and market research companies cannot provide accurate data about the reachability of portals at all.
"They provide the data only from one platform, but, for example, DELFI has 600 000 followers on Facebook, 700 000 viewers on "Telia" TV platform. Also, there is a "YouTube" channel. Therefore, the statistics provided by market research companies are limited. But we follow our users to any platforms they are using, not only to those that are monitored by "Gemius", says he.
Questioning the purpose of cookies
One more issue that is facing not only "Gemius" but all online market research companies is more and more browsers are blocking "Gemius" script. The script allows collecting data with the help of cookies. For example, "Firefox", "Safari" and some other browsers limit data collection of their users by blocking well-known tracking pages or they analyze what cookies and how are sent to users, by analyzing this the websites are classified and later their activity is shortened to one or several days. This ruins accurate data collection. This problem is most often discussed by the advertisement sector in international media.
An expert on information technologies Marius Pareščius is quite skeptical about the management of this situation.
"Let me remind you about the fact that when "Gemius" entered the market several years ago they had a methodology that they used. But this methodology was changed each year. It is not surprising because new browsers, new media types, browsers for smartphones were introduced in the market. When something new was introduced to the market, companies like "Gemius" modified their code and some dishonest websites tried to install it in a way that they got better statistics. For example, we know more than one website that is publishing data about business companies that have installed "Gemius" code several times. This means that each time a visitor visits a particular website it is counted, for example, as three users visited it”, he explains.
Meanwhile, “Gemius” claims that this is not true. According to the company, if the code is installed more than once a cookie is seen as one user.
The expert adds that nowadays many different technologies and methodologies are used, for example, sometimes they do not count cookies, sometimes a browser is seen in a bigger view with a box of different cookies. For instance, "Google Chrome" is always updated, but the number of cookies stays the same. "In this case, I will be counted as the same user without getting new cookies. Moreover, now websites, because of the protection of personal data, do not send cookies or try to avoid using them even if before without cookies they could not count their users", comments M. Pareščius.
According to him, there has never been any reliable online currency in the market.
"You can always cheat "Google Analytics" or any online statistics platform. The only question here is how much money you put in that. If we talk about thousands or more euros, then you can distort anything. And if I have tools for that I can do it", illustrates M. Pareščius.
As counterfeit currency
Communication expert Mykolas Katkus observes that all audiences (online, TV, etc.) research data are like a currency that value is defined by reliability.
"If any currency - US dollar, euro or any other currency - lose its reliability the market immediately reacts and starts to look for another currency. It can happen because of many reasons, for example, some countries printed too much money or a huge amount was counterfeited. And those cases already happened. We cannot argue that "Gemius" statistics are the universal currency that is used in Lithuania by advertisement agencies, creators of content that attracts users. Any uncertainty about statistics is a big crisis in the market. If a crisis starts the market tries to find a way how to protect the currency and its reliability. In other cases, everyone loses - news portals, clients that are using that data and the currency. If mistrust in the currency becomes massive, if the producer of that currency cannot ensure reliability it is obvious that the currency might collapse" comments he.
He reminded about Venezuela and the Zimbabwe case where after issuing too many currency countries were caught in traps of huge inflation.
"I still remember the times when there was no unifying online currency in Lithuania when owners of a website would say that they thought that they have a certain amount of users. All arrows that go to "Gemius" are a very serious crisis and "Gemius" has to react to it and make sure that online currency is reliable. If this will not happen, the market will come back to times where you do not know what you buy", stresses M. Katkus.
He reminds readers that the solution for the current situation is important not only for companies that are directly impacted by the situation.
"If something is unreliable the impact can be seen generally in society. In Lithuania we have strong competition in the online market, the market is dynamic and has a big impact on the politics of the country, the formation of public opinion, sharing opinions. So if any portal does not get its part of the revenues just because online research methodology was changed that makes a big influence on all the company's activities. And it has an impact on us", says he.
According to M. Katkus, intensive competition between online portals make them creating a lot of local content that adds to the development of society.
"I do not think that "Google", "Facebook" or any other foreign company will ever have a strong intention to support the creators of Lithuanian content. We can like or not local media companies, but they have the interest to live in our society. That is why I think that the accuracy and reliability of statistics are vital. DELFI, "15min.lt", "lrytas.lt", "alfa.lt", "tv3.lt" are competing not just between themselves, they also compete with global players. Therefore, I think we have a very serious situation that has to be solved as soon as possible", assesses M. Katkus.
Information for readers: news portal DELFI is buying data from "Gemius" since 2005.
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