Internet Explorer users have low IQ? Media hoaxed by bogus research

Filed Under: Adobe, Facebook, Internet Explorer, Malware, PDF, Social networks, Vulnerability

Earlier today I got a call from a journalist at a media organisation (I won't say which one to spare their blushes..) with a plaintive cry:

"I think we might have been hoaxed. Could you take a look and see what you think?"

It turned out that many websites (CNN, BBC, NPR, CNET, Forbes, the Daily Mail, Mashable, the Daily Telegraph are just a handful) had been duped in recent days by supposed research from AptiQuant showing that users of Internet Explorer scored lower than average in IQ tests.

CNN report

A claim like that is obviously going to be essential reading for anyone with a technical bent, and it was unsurprising to see so many websites report the story.

Of course, when many people read the story they probably thought - as I did - that the research was bound to be a bit shonky. You can, after all, easily mislead people with statistics or use a biased sample to get the results you want.

But, fascinatingly, it wasn't just the research that was utterly bogus - it was the company behind the research too. Because AptiQuant didn't really exist.

Sure, I discovered that its website existed (albeit a WHOIS search revealed it was only registered as a domain since mid-July, which seemed odd for a company which claimed to have been in operation for some years). But it transpired that it had also copied content (such as the images of staff members) from a legitimate psychometric testing company called Central Test.

I even went onto Google Maps' Street view mode to look up AptiQuant's alleged street address in Vancouver, but found no sign of an office. I was even planning to ask one of my colleagues in Sophos's Vancouver office to do a drive-by to see if they could raise anyone at AptiQuant after my phone calls went unanswered.

Richards Street, Vancouver

It seemed clear to me that the skeptics were right - the research and the firm were fictitious.

The only question left was why was someone doing this?

Could it be maybe a publicity stunt for someone? After all, we recently saw an online dating site claim to have had a virus attack purely to drum up new business.

Or perhaps it was someone with a grudge against Internet Explorer, or dirty guerilla tactics by a rival web browser firm?

Maybe it was performance art?

AptiQuant reportNothing seemed to make sense.

Then I thought - hang on, everyone is downloading a PDF of this so-called research.. What if the PDF was infected by malware? That would be an ingenious way to spread malicious code.

After all, we do see a lot of attacks spread via boobytrapped Adobe PDF files that exploit vulnerabilities on users' unpatched computers.

But a quick check by the experts in SophosLabs found nothing obviously dangerous in the PDF.

This evening, to some relief, the truth has come out.

AptiQuant's website has been updated with an admission that it was a hoax, and an explanation that the stunt was motivated by frustration at Internet Explorer's infamously poor compatibility with web standards.

AptiQuant admits it's a hoax

Various news agencies are left with egg on their face for feverishly reporting the story without applying the right level of skepticism, and the hoaxers are no doubt delighted that their real shopping comparison website has received some publicity.

Me? I'm not going to be visiting the shopping comparison website that appears to be behind the hoax.

For one thing, I am suspicious of any site that so strongly recommends I install a Facebook app to win a laptop. Why would I want to grant them access to so much of my Facebook profile and personal information?

At Cheap

If there's an important lesson to learn from this story, and it's an important one for everyone who is serious about computer security, it's this: Don't believe everything you read on the internet.

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14 Responses to Internet Explorer users have low IQ? Media hoaxed by bogus research

  1. Edie · 1179 days ago

    Which browser is the writer using? LOL Organization is misspelled in the first sentence.

  2. snickerling · 1179 days ago

    I don't believe anything I read on the internet, including this article. But I did read it using Firefox. ;)

  3. For the record, there were also media sites that saw the press release and decided it wasn't worth covering (such as, I'm happy to say, Computerworld.com where I work). "Some media" did not apply enough critical thought before running a story and were taken in by the hoax; but *other* media -- and not just Computerworld -- decided it was just another shoddy pitch not worth reporting on for our readers. I'm not sure the media's obligation extends to checking the veracity of every press release we receive and decide not to cover.

  4. Coby · 1179 days ago

    I read the article using Dolphin HD (android browser). I don't think it's even in the report. This comment is posted using firefox though

  5. Some app only works with IE. For example, my school uses the authorware app, which only runs perfectly in IE.

    Also, MS has dramatically changed the browser with IE9 and now its a formitable opponent to Firefox and other browsers.

  6. Matt · 1179 days ago

    It's ok, the BBC article says they contacted you.

  7. Asaf · 1179 days ago

    "people who don't know about complex browsers" there is your answer...
    A lot of people want simple all-ready-installed-I-don't-care-just-work stuff.
    That's why there's the debate of Android vs iOS...
    Most will favor simplicity (or at least something that appears simple)

  8. Hi from Venezuela..!! I don´t know if that´s true... but I use Firefox.. combined with Avast and Spybot and I´m Happy.. Thumbs Up..!! ;-)

    • Anacreon · 1173 days ago

      Only an idiot would believe everything he/she reads, especially on the internet.

  9. roy jones jr · 1178 days ago

    That hoax article is another good example of a person or a group of people just mad because they didn't get rich from creating a OS. Outside of work related factors, Internet Explorer works without issue. Those that have web browser problems need to learn how to troubleshoot.

    BTW someone misspelled "formidable". Now you know what my girlfriend puts up with.

  10. J.Hunter · 1161 days ago

    It was 3 months (or less) I saw this same article in a reference website I used to visiting. In my opinion, this article regarding "IE users with IQ too low" is too tendencious and somehow "agressive". Today I've checked this same website and Thankfully the article was removed.

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About the author

Graham Cluley runs his own award-winning computer security blog, and is a veteran of the anti-virus industry having worked for a number of security companies since the early 1990s. Now an independent security analyst, he regularly makes media appearances and gives computer security presentations. Send Graham an email, subscribe to his updates on Facebook, follow him on Twitter and App.net, and circle him on Google Plus for regular updates.