Mar 17 2006

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!