A website posing as a legitimate research company managed to fool many major media outlets last week with a false report that users of Microsoft Internet Explorer have lower IQs than users of other Web browsers.
The fake company, called AptiQuant, sent out a bogus press release carrying the headline, "Is Internet Explorer for the Dumb? A New Study Suggests Exactly That."
The release claimed that the company had conducted extensive research on the topic and had offered online IQ tests to more than 100,000 people in order to match their intelligence scores with the browser on which the test was taken.
CNN, NPR, CNET, London’s Daily Mail, Forbes, and BBC were among the many outlets that ran stories citing the report.
But members of the public quickly raised eyebrows over the supposed findings, pointing out that that AptiQuant appeared to have set up its site only last month, the BBC reported Wednesday in a story on the elaborate hoax. Readers also discovered that the photographs used on AptiQuant's page were taken from the site of an established French research company.
It remains unclear who was behind the apparent stunt. For now, the only victims of the hoax seem to be the news editors who trusted the report and those IE users who were mocked by their friends; no malicious software has been found on a PDF of false data sent out with the press release.
Graham Cluley, a consultant for the security firm Sophos, explained that in the Internet age, it can be simple to conjure up a website that seems legitimate. "It's obviously very easy to create a bogus site like this, as all phishers know it's easy to rip-off someone else's Web pages and pictures," he told the BBC.
UPDATE at 3:10 p.m.: The pranksters have admitted that the bogus report was indeed a hoax, saying that it was meant as a "lighthearted joke."
A statement on the fake company's website reads, in part: "There is no company called AptiQuant, and [no] such survey was ever done." The pranksters say that they were not sponsored by any browser companies, and that they got the idea after finding IE 6.0 to 8.0 "really hard to work with."