You may know more about R2D2 and C3PO, the robot stars of “Star Wars,” than you do about the robots that suck the lifeblood out of online market research by fraudulently impersonating real, flesh-and-blood survey respondents.
Fraudsters create bots to feed on the rewards offered to online survey-takers. The more a bot goes undetected, the more it deceives research providers and clients into believing they are getting real completes from real people. The consequence is the very definition of a double whammy: not only do clients waste money on the reward payments that go to the botmeisters for each fraudulent response, but they incur the potentially much higher cost of basing analysis and business decisions on the bogus data the bots have left behind.
On a more encouraging note, insights professionals are starting to discuss the bot epidemic publicly, and open discussion is the first step toward prevention and cure. It's understandable that the main focus so far has been online research, because bots do their hunting online. But in-app mobile research also needs to be part of the conversation, because it moves the survey-taking process offline, where bots can’t follow.
Joe Hopper, founder of Versta Research, has made a strong contribution to the discussion in an article on his company’s blog entitled “How Many Bots Took Your Survey?” The answer, he writes, is “Almost certainly more than you think….if you are purchasing access to survey respondents from panel providers, or from survey software providers…you are probably getting fraudulent data from automated bots or from survey-taker farms.”
Hopper sees this as a severe challenge to data reliability and a real danger to survey-based market research. “For our most recent survey” he wrote, “we sourced sample from the top, most expensive provider in the U.S. market, with all the usual assurances of double opt-in, identity verification, etc. We found fraud (the provider was horrified, as they should be).”
Hopper emphasizes the need for perpetual vigilance in monitoring individual survey responses for signs of fraud. He also recommends tracing the IP address and Internet Service Provider from which suspected bots have been launched, then permanently blocking them.
But the best and simplest bot-fighter is a trustworthy, validated all-mobile panel that’s united in taking surveys on a native mobile app. In-app research takes place offline, in a safety zone that stands apart from the online realm where bots can freely roam. In a properly designed mobile survey, the entire questionnaire loads instantly into respondents’ smartphones. They proceed to answer in the app instead of online, which means there's no need to stay connected to the bot-infested internet. Bots can take surveys, but they don't have smartphones and they can't download a legitimate survey app. MFour’s process begins with each panelist downloading the Surveys on the Go® app, which has been defining and advancing in-app mobile research since its debut in 2011.
To sum up, prospective research clients should always ask panel providers about how they’re sourcing panelists, and inquire about what they’re doing to guard against bots and other types of panel fraud. And when your due-diligence turns to the subject of bots, don’t forget to ask how the seller’s approach to panel integrity and data quality stacks up against offline, in-app mobile. To have a productive conversation on this important subject, just contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.