"X people are looking at this product" counters widely faked

You know those little notes on shopping sites saying things like "14 people are looking at this product"? We all understand that it's a cheesy way to get us to buy, but we may assume it's basically accurate. That it's real data pulled out by tracking code, perhaps even the Google Analytics bug that everyone uses anyway. Well, hate to break it to you, but no, they're often just fake.

Jacob Bergdahl:

The number of people viewing the article is thus a complete fabrication. The code simply generates a random number every five seconds. This makes it appear as though people are constantly browsing the website, making it seem lively and busy. It's probably supposed to make the website look more trustworthy, as many other people appear to be browsing. It can also encourage customers to checkout as quickly as possible, as the product they are interested in might be in high demand.

In the event that you are reading this in the far future and the website has since been updated, you might be happy to know that the website was indexed by the web archives crawlers on May 16th, 2020 — and this code is saved in it. You can find an indexed version of the website here.

My blogging that a similar random counter was on the MagicJack website was one of the reasons that company sued Boing Boing (and lost) more than a decade ago. One of the best lines in the judge's verdict is when she points out they simply admit it's fake in their own lawsuit suing us for saying it's fake: "Plaintiff's own evidence shows that the counter is not counting visitors to the website as a visitor visits the site," wrote Judge Verna A. Adams. "Instead, the visitor is seeing an estimate."

See also: people trying to block or ban right-clicking in 2021 because they're in the NFT game and don't understand that it is the nature of tulips to reproduce.