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Useful Statistics?

Feb 04, 20082 mins
Data and Information Security

These days it seems we are inundated with e-mail and statistics. Like e-mail, though, I believe many of the statistics we receive are just as reliable as those offers of riches from dying uncles in Nigeria. Perhaps it’s my background in mathematics, in which I learned that with the right sample one could literally prove almost anything (e.g., see the headlines of any issue of the National Enquirer), but I definitely take most surveys and the conclusions drawn from them with a grain of salt. In particular, it seems common sense is frequently wanting in the interpretation of survey results. An example will illustrate the problem.

Recently, I read a survey with the alarming headline that hitting the “reply all” button when responding to e-mail cost the U.S. economy $650 billion in 2006. That’s right, “billion” with a “b.” This certainly sounds troubling. All that lost productivity. All that money wasted. But wait a minute. Is this really accurately portraying what’s going on? Is the time taken by employees in quickly scanning such e-mail really costing businesses over half a trillion dollars each year? If this statistic is true, then the entire Gross National Product might easily be exceeded if we add up the time wasted each day waiting for Windows to boot, the time it takes to visit the water cooler a couple of times day, and the time it takes to consult the company phone list to identify the extension of a co-worker.

 Perhaps companies really are wasting over half a trillion dollars each year on “reply all” e-mail or maybe this is one of the many surveys that should be taken with a grain of salt. I’m not saying surveys and statistics shouldn’t be trusted, but only that they be looked on with a little old fashioned common sense.


Michael R. Overly is a partner and intellectual property lawyer with Foley & Lardner LLP where he focuses on drafting and negotiating technology related agreements, software licenses, hardware acquisition, development, disaster recovery, outsourcing agreements, information security agreements, e-commerce agreements, and technology use policies. He counsels clients in the areas of technology acquisition, information security, electronic commerce, and on-line law.

Mr. Overly is a member of the Technology Transactions & Outsourcing and Privacy, Security & Information Management Practices. Mr. Overly is one of the few practicing lawyers who has satisfied the rigorous requirements necessary to obtain the Certified Information System Auditor (CISA), Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP), Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), Information Systems Security Management Professional (ISSMP), Certified Risk and Information System Controls (CRISC) and Certified Outsourcing Professional (COP) certifications.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of Michael R. Overly and do not necessarily represent those of IDG Communications, Inc., its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.

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