A big red flag

Seeing the phrase “up to” should make you very suspicious of what comes after it, particularly when it’s used in phrases like “may be up to 10 times faster.” One of Voltage’s competitors actually used that phrase to describe how the performance of their products compare to the performance of Voltage’s. In this particular case, they weren’t being totally honest.

Consider the statement “my salary could be up to $1 million this year.” The unfortunate and harsh reality is that I make much less than that, but the statement is certainly true nevertheless. Similarly, our competitor's claim that their performance “may be up to 10 times faster” is also true for much smaller multiples. It’s even true if they’re performance is actually worse, isn’t it? A multiple of 0.5 is also less than a multiple of 10, after all.

I’ve seen one case where the phrase “up to” actually made sense. That was in one of Symantec’s reports on the underground economy. When they estimated the value of stolen credit card numbers had to cyber-criminals, they said that it was “up to $5 billion,” but that was because they didn’t know how many of the credit card numbers being sold were actually valid. If all the credit card numbers were valid, they’d be worth the full $5 billion, but because some were probably invalid, the actual value was probably less than $5 billion, and it was hard to estimate by how much. That’s a case where saying “up to” seems to make sense. In most cases, however, it should be a warning that what’s being said probably isn’t very accurate.

I plan to do up to 100 more posts that talk about this in more detail.

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