Just as there are counterfeit handbags that look like the real thing, there are fake data graphics that look like the real thing. Reader San C. shows us an example of this (found on the All Things D blog here):
At first sight, this appears to be a bubble chart. Further, the legend is telling us that the colors are meaningful. So, the bubbles correspond to different types of data, grouped by color, and the size of the bubbles represents the relative level of concern expressed by respondents.
That would be true if we were looking at the "real thing". But this is a counterfeit. How do we know it's fake?
First, the size of the bubbles was not sized to scale. Just look at the Social Security Number versus credit card number (shown on the right). A 1% difference shouldn't be visible on this sort of chart but the credit card bubble is clearly smaller.
Second, the legend gives the impression that the tint of the color carries information. However, it really doesn't. I lined up all of the green bubbles in order of decreasing data, and couldn't find any pattern to the tints.
There also isn't a clear pattern in the location of specific bubbles. Were they randomly scattered onto the chart?
In summary, this is the ultimate non-self-sufficient chart. If we remove the actual printed data from this chart, we're left with nothing.
Aside from the graphical aspects, we should pay attention to some statistical issues.
The article does not stress enough the potential bias of this survey. The survey is an online survey of Internet users. Their average opinion about Internet-related issues should not be used to represent the opinion of the average American without careful consideration. There is a good possibility that people who have concerns about Internet privacy are less likely to be found on the Internet.
I also wonder if survey takers understand clearly the poll question. What does it mean by a company "accessing my personal information"? Does it mean I give the company the information (such as my credit card number) because I need to complete a transaction? Does it mean the company purchases such information from an information exchange? And if so, with or without informing me?
In particular, I don't understand the 28% who say they are not concerned about companies accessing their social security number.