Press Releases

Press Releases

Scout Analytics™ Quantifies the Inaccuracy of Cookies as a Measure of Unique UsersEven a 100% Reliable Cookie Overstates User Counts 2 to 4 Times

Seattle, Washington — Feb. 17, 2010 — Scout Analytics™, the leader in behavioural analytics for maximizing the value of customer engagement, today released new research findings detailing further limitations of cookies, a commonly used method to track user behaviour on websites. During the past 6 months, Scout Analytics tracked hundreds of thousands of subscribers through a combination of patent-pending tracking technologies of the device and biometric signatures. Scout Analytics discovered cookies have an inherent weakness that causes them to overstate the user counts on an average of two to four times.

“Virtually all measurement techniques have some rate of error, but online marketers who have a heavy reliance on cookies need to know this method has astonishingly low accuracy,” said John Lovett, senior partner for Web Analytics Demystified. “Because of this, we expect new innovations in measurement technology in the near future that will no doubt minimize marketers’ reliance on cookies and dramatically improve measurement accuracy.”

For paid content providers and marketing professionals, the traditional approach to usage tracking is through cookies, a small piece of data that is stored on a device by the web browser. Each new browser that accesses an application is given a cookie, and the application relies on this to track user behaviour. However, user tracking based on cookies doesn’t track actual individuals – it tracks cookies browsers.  Several types of errors are introduced as a consequence. First, users access applications through a variety of browsers and machines—from the office, at home, mobile devices, etc. Second, cookies are often reset by the user or even automatically by the browser. The assumption that an individual user will utilize a single cookie browser is therefore flawed.

To research the extent of these consequences, Scout Analytics used tracking techniques of the device and biometric signatures to follow the behaviors of hundreds of thousands of named users accessing paid content products. The biometric signature identified unique users through an individual’s typing pattern to eliminate errors in user counting such as account-sharing. The device signature identified unique devices through data elements collected from the browser to eliminate errors in device counting such as cleared cookies. By correlating the named user account, biometric signature, and device signature, an accurate mapping of individual to devices could be produced.

The scope of the research included analyzing more than twenty million visits to various paid content products. From the device signatures of each visit, Scout Analytics was able to identify nearly 600,000 unique devices. Further correlating the biometric signatures from the visits, Scout Analytics identified more than 175,000 unique individuals approximately 45,000 of whom were unlicensed. When each distinct paid content product was analyzed, Scout Analytics found the number of users to be two to four times overstated by a theoretical 100% reliable cookie (i.e., even if cookies were never deleted).

“With the contraction of ad and subscription revenues in the information industry today, publishers need better audience data to optimize revenue,” said Matthew Shanahan, senior vice president of strategy for Scout Analytics. “There are a number of alternatives to cookies that can improve insights such as those used in our own study.  New devices such as phones, readers, and tablets will only make the consequences of tracking and accuracy more pronounced.”

Scout Analytics is the leading provider of behavioural analytics that maximize the value of customer engagement in recurring-revenue businesses. Scout Analytics’ unique SaaS offering delivers revenue optimization across multiple industries, including real estate, financial information services, SaaS and digital media.

Scout Analytics is a venture-backed company headquartered in Issaquah, Washington. To learn more about Scout Analytics, visit or call 425.649.1100. Follow the Scout Analytics blog at