Forrester's Estimates of the Number of UK File Sharers: A Clarification

The BBC recently aired a story that focused on some Forrester statistics regarding the number of people in the UK engaged in illegal file sharing. I’d like to provide more context in order to clarify any confusion about how we arrived at our estimate that the number of illegal file sharers in the UK is 6.7 million.

 

There are two parts to this issue, so let me take them individually:

 

·         How Forrester estimated the number of UK Internet users. Forrester estimates that in 2008, the UK online population was 41 million. The UK Office for National Statistics pegs the online population at 34 million. Both are estimates based on consumer surveys, which in our case is supplemented by ISP data and a variety of other standard modeling techniques. The different results – we believe - can also be attributed to the different survey methodologies. For instance, the ONS surveyed online adults only; the Forrester survey included online users of all ages (particularly relevant in this context as file-sharing is popular among UK young people). Also Forrester surveys individuals whilst ONS surveys households. It’s worth noting that the difference between the adult and total online population accounts for 1-2 million in itself. It’s also worth considering  that the ONS numbers are lower than most other industry estimates. Eurostat (the official statistical body of the European Union) estimates the UK online population at 43 million; Ofcom (the UK telecoms regulator) has it at 38 million. So what’s clear here is that there are always differences based on survey methodology, and that the ONS numbers just happens to be the lowest.

 

·        How Forrester estimated the number of UK illegal file-sharers. In our 2008 survey of 1,176 consumers, 11.6% of respondents admitted to engaging in illegal file sharing. We scaled that number up to 16.3% because consumers tend to under report illegal file sharing behavior, especially when the potential for legal action exists, as is the case in the UK. In order to quantify the under reporting Forrester designed a survey questionnaire with explicit checks and then used additional modeling techniques to further test.  To illustrate just how big an issue underreporting is, in Sweden between 2004 and 2006 music file sharing dropped from 26% to 14%, just as a loop hole in the law was closed and legal action commenced against a Swedish network. Yet ISPs reported that they had not seen any such decline in P2P traffic.  In short, scared Swedish file sharers didn’t want to tell anyone about their activity.  When the dust had settled in 2008, self reported levels went back up to 20%.

 

Both I individually and Forrester as an organization pride ourselves on impartiality and objectivity.  We invest heavily to present the most accurate information possible and to make the right recommendation, whoever it may or may not please.  There are numerous processes and contractual clausesin place to ensure that Forrester’s objectivity cannot be compromised.  In fact our objectivity normally leaves us in a somewhat uncomfortable middle ground of annoying people on both sides of the argument….and that’s just how it should be.

 

 

 

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