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Silly season in Amsterdam

Schiphol Airport is a black hole for laptops and people in Noord give more to charities if they can pay electronically. It is silly season, so news stories about research findings should be treated with caution.

Recently, consumers’ organisation Consumentenbond published a study showing that Amsterdam terraces tend to be more expensive than those in other cities. And research institute Stadspeil is currently polling people on what they miss about Amsterdam when on holiday.

For many organisations, the summer is an ideal time to use research findings to generate free publicity. Earlier this week for example, many newspapers reported on a study on electronic payments in a door-to-door collection in Amsterdam Noord for the Rheumatism Association.

The research had been sponsored by CCV, which claims to be the market leader in electronic payment systems. This should have put journalists on guard: CCV might have an interest in presenting electronic payment as an attractive option.

Quite a few newspapers were put on the wrong track by an ambiguous passage in CCV’s press release, which suggested that the option to pay electronically had substantially increased proceeds.

However, the original study found that offering the option to pay electronically alongside the traditional collection box did not affect the amount of money raised, whereas accepting only electronic payments in fact substantially reduced proceeds.

Incidentally, the study also found that people tend to give more to female collectors, regardless of how good they look. In order to assess their attractiveness, researchers had 93 people rate photographs of the collectors.

Almost simultaneously with the CCV story, media reported on a study by the Ponemon Institute which found that 750 laptops get lost at Schiphol Airport every week. The only European airport where more laptops disappear would be London Heathrow. At large American airports, on average 286 laptops would disappear per week.

As a result of the negligence of European business travellers, ‘potentially millions of files containing sensitive or confidential data’ are at risk, Ponemon warns.

In this case, the media responded rather more assertively. “Dell has an interest in presenting alarming results. The PC producer wants to promote its professional laptop and data protection products. The company contracted the Ponemon research institute to produce those data and it got exactly what it wanted”, Janneke Scheepers wrote on ZDNet.

Various media reported that according to Schiphol, only 23 laptops had been returned to lost and found during the past quarter and one or two laptops per week are reported missing or stolen at the airport (figures from de Volkskrant; Webwereld has slightly different figures).

Of course, some people may report the loss at their destination rather than at Schiphol. Further, the Ponemon study purposely included laptops that go missing only temporarily, since these also present a security risk.

Still, the difference between a few dozen per quarter and 750 per week is rather large, raising the question how Ponemon reached at its estimate. Since airports do not keep records on lost laptops, researchers have asked airport staff to make a guess. Obviously, such a method can easily lead to exaggerated outcomes.

Interestingly, foreign media did not seem to have much of a problem with the Ponemon data.

Photo: N/M/A

5 August 2008 |