OPINION23 October 2023

How researchers can fight fraud in online surveys


Oscar Carlsson at Cint explores three ways that market research firms can combat survey fraud.

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In an era where advanced technology has made fraud more a commonality than an outlier, the infiltration of bad actors into an industry feels like a rite of passage, and the market research industry is no exception. The number of cases of fraud in market research has risen, and it’s starting to make a noticeable impact on the quality of data. 

Beyond industry-wide efforts, there are three important safeguards that the industry can — and needs to — implement to get ahead of sophisticated fraudsters. It boils down to deploying smart technology, integrating server-to-server callbacks and implementing smart survey engagement tactics. 

Deploy smart technology to filter out the bots
Bot-detecting fraud solutions are table stakes at this point, and can help organisations identify bots much faster, hopefully before a considerable amount of data needs to be discarded. Strategies are currently in place to combat fraud, like analysing browser properties to create digital fingerprints and preventing double submissions. Beyond those solutions, there are more advanced techniques available to companies that rely on collecting more data from users to validate they are who they claim to be.

Other techniques leverage machine learning to provide greater insights. At this point, if a survey platform is not implementing Captcha, at the very least, to filter out bots, that’s the first problem to solve.

Integrate the industry
The market research industry is like a pipe; you have suppliers, buyers and survey platforms all working together for the ultimate goal of gathering insights. Even though each part plays an integral role, they’re not always working as a cohesive team – that’s when leaks in the pipe occur. Working as one single unit helps to keep the pipe functioning and prevent anyone who doesn’t belong in the pipe from getting in. One way this can be accomplished is via server-to-server integrations. 

Server-to-server callbacks that communicate between the different platforms and are invisible to users help mitigate the problem. The rise of ghost completes in the industry is primarily driven by weaknesses in this chain, and can be effectively stopped with a little backend technical work.

Once these server-to-server callbacks are in place, organisations can build filters and other business rules to address people who are inside the pipe that don’t belong.

Make users want to complete the survey
Attentiveness and quality responses aren’t technically fraud issues, but it’s important to acknowledge that one way to combat survey fraud is to encourage real users to take surveys. 

It starts with making surveys engaging. We’re living in a world where a user’s attention is being pulled in hundreds of different directions. They don’t want to sit down and take a 15 to 20-minute survey for minimal compensation. Surveys have to be clear and concise with no long-winded or confusing questions, relevant to the end user and valuable to the respondent. It’s about perception. A survey with 10 to 15 questions that are simple to understand is a breeze. A survey with five questions that are difficult to follow and open-ended feels like a chore. 

The value exchange is also important in survey engagement. Consumers are not going to complete a survey if they feel they are getting nothing in return. Surveys should be relevant to the user and improve their overall experience. Maybe it’s a survey on Starbucks choices and the exchange is a gift card, or the survey pops up on a mobile game and users get an extra life for completing it. The reward needs to be meaningful to the user, and ideally meet them where they’re at.

Outside of incentives, there should be an air of excitement. Users should be excited about having the opportunity to share their opinions on a wide range of topics, from influencing the decisions of their favourite brands to sharing thoughts on political candidates and public policy. 

As the online survey industry continues to mature, increased survey fraud is a mark of its popularity. But it is also a major problem to address. The industry has been working on new technological solutions that help combat fraud before it can even infiltrate surveys. Smart technology integration, server-to-server deployment and effective survey engagement tactics are just the beginning when it comes to being one step ahead of fraudsters.

Oscar Carlsson is chief innovation officer at Cint.