Mar 172006

A New Member of the Internet Axis of Evil

A New Member of the Internet Axis of Evil

Fred has written a series of postings over the years about the Internet Axis of Evil, roughly in order here, here, here, here, and here (I’m sure I missed some).  The basis of the postings is great — that, as Fred says:

There’s a downside to an open network. It’s the same downside that exists in an open society. There are a lot of nuts out there who want to do bad things (the evildoers as George W Bush calls them). And we all have to spend a lot of time and money making sure that we are protected from them. It’s a huge burden on an open network and an open society, but i see no way around it.

So far, the members of Fred’s club are:

DNS Hacking
Comment Spam/Link Spam
Click Fraud
Really Simple Stealing

So today, I propose a ninth member of this esteemed club:  Survey Fraud.  A lot of people don’t know it, but one of our biggest businesses at Return Path is market research — or a subset of market research known as online sample.  Our brand for this part of our business has historically been Survey Direct , but next week, entirely appropos of this posting, we are changing the name to Authentic Response.

What we do in this business is work with market research firms to drive qualified, interested, double opt-in members of our research panel to take online quantitative surveys.  It’s a little like the email database marketing business (which is why we’re in it), although the dynamics of qualifying for and taking surveys are totally different than lead generation, and we have a separate team that supports the research business.

Occasionally, surveys carry a small cash incentive, usually in the $2-5 range, to thank people for the time they spend taking the survey, which can often be 15-20 minutes.  Usually we just pay people via PayPal, although we also allow people to donate their incentives to our favorite charity, Accelerated Cure.  You’d think at $2 a pop, it’s not so interesting, but there seems to be a cottage industry that’s sprouting up that I’m now calling Survey Fraud — the art of faking your way into a survey or completing a survey multiple times, in order to collect as much incentive money as possible.

First, there are message boards on the Internet where the Survey Fraud perpetrators hang out and share information with each other about surveys — things like “hey for XYZ survey, you need to be a 40-year old homemaker in zip code 12345 with a college degree” that encourage people to fake their way in.

Second, there are more serious thugs out there who write bots and scripts and create dozens or hundreds of phantom online identities in order to “take” a single survey 100 times over.  $2 adds up when you can earn it 100x in 5 minutes with the help of a little Perl script.

The people who conduct Survey Fraud are just as pathetic as the other members of the Internet Axis of Evil.  We have to constantly stay 10 steps ahead of them in making sure our system has state of the art security — a feature we are trademarking called Authentic Validation — in order to fend them off and make sure our clients get 100% authentic survey results as promised.  I can’t share with you our complex security methodology, since that would compromise it (geez, I sound like the White House, sorry), but as Fred says, it’s a huge burden that we have to bear in order to run our survey business on the Internet.

So congratulations to our Authentic Response team on their new name and their constant efforts to fight the Axis of Evil, and to all who commit Survey Fraud, please take your “business” elsewhere!

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  • Zoli Erdos

    Does most survey spam come from outside the US, from countries where $2 is a decent amount?

    If not, scripts make sense for the fraudsters but I can’t see how they ‘scale’ manual fraud to the point it’s worth doing…

  • Bobby
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  • Matt

    This is funny because I was looking at your company as the frauds. You send out email to people to fill out your surveys promising money for their time with nothing telling them they have to “qualify” for the survey. People like myself then give you all of our company information and our time only to be told that we do not “qualify”. I was promised money for my time, where is it?
    I hope you understand why I find it hard to feel sorry for your company if you have attracted the bottom-feeders of the internet. It looks like you brought that upon yourself.

  • Matt Blumberg

    To the previous commenter — who didn’t leave an email address, so I can’t contact him privately — we are pretty clear when we invite people to join our panel NOT to advertise the panel as a place to make money, unlike a lot of other research web sites out there.

    It is true that we promote an incentive with specific surveys, and yes, it is true that one has to qualify for the survey. But that doesn’t make us fraudulent — it makes us careful market researchers who want to make sure that our clients are only getting responses from truly qualified respondents.

    I am sorry you haven’t yet qualified for a survey, and we are always trying to do the best job we can at targeting surveys to people who will LIKELY qualify for them, but we don’t always have enough data to get that right up front. I’m sure you will eventually qualify for something and be appropriately reimbursed for your time.

    But comparing us to criminals who write scripts to systematically steal money? That’s beyond not fair.



    I’m new to this blog. Apologize for asking this though, but to OP…
    Do you know if this can be true; ?
    it came off
    Thanks :)