Journalists, Don’t Fall for Predicto’s Flack Attack about iPhone 4 Recall

This morning, I received a PR pitch from social networking survey service Predicto, which existence I had no prior knowledge. I’m simply aghast by the flagrant misuse of data and assertion that based on a Predicto survey, Apple will likely recall iPhone 4.

From the email:

With Apple slated to hold a press conference tomorrow, the most likely topic seems to be how to correct the iPhone 4 signal issues cited by users and proven in a recent Consumer Reports’ study.  As such, Predicto Mobile, the nation’s largest premium mobile service content provider, has turned to consumers for their input, polling its pool of 2 million subscribers to see what they think Apple will do.  And according to results so far, it seems likely they will be pulled from shelves.

Predicto asked question: “With Consumer Reports declining to recommend the iPhone 4 due to flaws, will Apple recall the phones by 8/15?” The email conveniently left out the date but offered something else: “ managing editor, Kirthana Ramisetti, is available to comment on how the public is reacting to this and other current event topics. Kirthana has been featured in a variety of entertainment outlets including E! News, CNN, CBS TV, CW New York, and more.”

I typically keep emails private, but this was a PR pitch that I assume other journalists received. Besides I want to share context for my email response:

Thanks, [unnamed PR person],

But the two things don’t equate. Consumers saying that Apple will “recall the phones” doesn’t the slightest mean “it seems likely they will be pulled from the shelves.” You can’t possibly predict what Apple will do based on what consumers think Apple will do. The sample size of 808 self-selected people is too small to be reliable.

You can say there is sentiment among some people that iPhone 4 should be recalled. But, again, based on what? Consumer Reports’ official report ranked iPhone 4 highest among smartphones, while the no recommendation came in a blog post. CR has since updated to assert that the antenna problems it observed are resolved by using Apple Bumpers.

I think that measuring sentiment is a valuable tool. However, Kirthana shouldn’t be making damaging statements about Apple likely recalling iPhone based on the opinions of 808 survey respondents who may be ill-informed. As a measure of sentiment, the results show that Apple has a PR and perception problem that needs fixing. But if the data is responsibly interpreted, it reveals little else.



I added the links to benefit my readers. I didn’t include them in the email.

There are other problems. Most egregious: The question is leading, by using “due to flaws.” Leading questions lead respondents to answer a certain way—in this case “Yes” to recall. The question also is wrong. Consumer Reports didn’t describe the antenna issue it observed as a “flaw,” so there is a second problem—the question isn’t just leading, it’s misleading.

I can only hope that other journalists will be discerning about Predicto’s pitch, which is all too tempting to accept. Speculative buzz about an iPhone 4 recall is a hot topic, and along comes Predicto with a survey and affirmative answer. Smart journalists should know better than to accept any PR pitch without careful review. It’s better to be responsible to your audience, the public companies affected by the information and to your own conscience and reputation than to write the easy, PR-pitched pageview-generating story.

Editor’s Note: This post was moved to from on Sept. 28, 2010.

Do you have a journalist’s responsibility story that you’d like told? Please email Joe Wilcox: joewilcox at gmail dot com.