GfK KnowledgePanel is a scam

What is GfK KnowledgePanel?

GfK is a market research company that mails envelopes to the homes of consumers, and the envelopes contain a $2 and a letter telling the ‘chosen’ that your household has been randomly selected to perform short market research surveys, a la the Nielsen ratings. You receive an email when a new survey is available for you, based on your demographic, and usually that comes around every few days. For every survey completed, you generate ‘points’, which you can eventually redeem for either a spin of the prize wheel or other contests (lowest amount), coupons, small gift cards, magazine subscriptions, a check for cash (at a $25 interval), or big items (huge amount of points required). The check gets paid out at 25,000 points, and the prizes generally break down so that 1,000 points = $1. You generate about 1,000 points for most surveys. Each survey, as of now, takes about 20 minutes, which means you earn around $3 per hour.

If you are a KnowledgePanel member who just gets the check, and you’re comfortable making about $3/hr (it takes over 8 hours to earn that $25 check), you can stop reading and enjoy the rest of the Internet. For those who want to know where the scam comes in, read on.


Honeymoon period and the first signs of trouble

To start off, I’ll tell the story of how I got started. Like everyone else, we got the letter in the mail, in November 2012, signed up for the site, and took the occasional survey we were sent. The surveys were initially quite short, around 5 minutes or so, and after a few months we accrued enough points for a $25 check. It came, we were happy, and everything was right with the world. Not long after that, however, my wife tells me that she has stopped taking the surveys. “Why?” I ask. She explains that the surveys are taking longer and longer, and it just isn’t worth her time. Thinking about it, I noticed that the surveys were becoming more dense and taking more time – but I was accruing points and about to get a second check, so I wasn’t worried.

Then, this July, a survey asks me to install a mobile Android app, so I can answer questions on the go. Being that I can’t think of much else to do in the bathroom, I looked into it. The app is called SODA Mobile. According to KnowledgePanel, the only security permissions the app requires is Network Access and Sound Control, which seems reasonable for loading surveys or videos. However, when I try to install the app, the following permissions are requested:

This app has access to these permissions:

  • Your location
    • precise location (GPS and network-based)
    • approximate location (network-based)
  • Network communication
    • full network access
    • view network connections
  • Phone calls
    • read phone status and identity
  • Storage
    • modify or delete the contents of your USB storage
  • System tools
    • mock location sources for testing
    • access extra location provider commands
    • test access to protected storage
  • Bluetooth
    • pair with Bluetooth devices
    • access Bluetooth settings
  • Camera
    • take pictures and videos
  • Microphone
    • record audio
  • Affects Battery
    • control vibration
    • prevent device from sleeping
  • Your application information
  • Run at startup

That is definitely more than than Network Access and Sound Control. Complete location information, records audio and takes pictures, and it starts up with my phone! Not only that, but a Privacy Policy for SODA Mobile could not be found. I don’t know about you, but I’m not comfortable with a marketing research firm having completely unrestricted access to everything I do, and everywhere I go, with my phone. I sent an email to GfK support about my concerns, asking if there was a Privacy Policy for SODA Mobile and about the discrepancies between how they describe the app and what permissions it requires on Android. Their response, in layman’s terms: if you don’t like it, don’t use it. So. I didn’t. I skipped that mobile survey and every future one, but this was how my first suspicions about GfK KnowledgePanel began.


The Prize Wheel

Spend your points to spin for nothing!

After completing a survey, the participant sometimes gets a free spin of the Prize Wheel. You can also spend your points on getting more spins on the Prize Wheel. Most of the things you can spend your points on, without accruing an obscene amount of points, are either coupons or contests like this one. I was just in it for the cash, but I always spin the Prize Wheel when it’s offered.

I noticed, after spinning the Prize Wheel, that my result was frequently the green tile directly next to the Grand Prize. Having an attention for detail, I kept track of what colors I would frequently land on. Every time, without fail, I would land on either green or pink. At first, I chocked it up to simple probability. However, after a few months, I became suspicious. Unfortunately, you only get 1 free spin on the Prize Wheel. I’m not going to spend my cherished points, I really want that $25 check!

I finally got up the energy to do some snooping. Looking through the source code for the web page, I found the URL for the Prize Wheel. It’s just an SWF, a standalone Flash file! I don’t have Flash Professional, however, so I couldn’t take a look under its hood. I can, however, approach it statistically. Given that there are 16 tiles, there is a 6.25% chance of landing on a tile on any given spin. Given enough spins, we should see some even distribution between the tiles. So, I did it. I performed 1,000 spins of the Prize Wheel, refreshing my browser to reset it each time, and recording the results.

Here are the results:

The Prize Wheel’s very uneven distribution

The results are pretty clear. The Prize Wheel only lands on Green and Pink. For a breakdown of the color distribution:

You can never win if the game is rigged!

This invites a question: If the Prize Wheel is rigged, are their other contests rigged, too? Looking at these results, I have no reason to believe otherwise. So, what’s left for a “volunteer” to do? Well, you can keep letting them pay you $3/hr for fulfilling the occasional survey, getting a check about once every other quarter, or you can slowly save your points to receive an actual reward in a few years. At that pace, though, you could spend that same time scouring parking lots for change and make money a lot faster!

Conclusion: If $3/hr is really worth your time, you can’t think of making money any other way, and giving feedback on ads seems really exciting, KnowledgePanel is for you. Otherwise, you’re wasting your time.

Another “scholar organization” scam

As a result of your dedication to scholarly success in University of North Texas, North America Scholar Consortium extends to you an invitation to apply for membership in the NASC Honor Society. Membership application is by invitation only; therefore, membership is a special honor afforded to a small group of outstanding students.

I receive this today, and I’m curious about the organization’s legitimacy. As a student, and now as an alumni, I receive these every so often.

For one, I looked up the domain registration information. This “old and reputable organization” has only had a website since October 2008, and it shares the same web server as an online dating/sex website. Second, the only websites that come up when you do a google search of the organization are forums where people are asking about the site’s legitimacy. Now, they were clever, because they named their “organization” something similar to other legitimate ones in the hopes that in your own research of their legitimacy you will not be paying attention to these differences.

Conclusion: this organization is a scam. Don’t give them your money.

Hello World!

…says my new computer.  I’m very excited about it.  I’ve never even had my very own desktop before, and now, thanks to help, I got to build one myself.  I got a pink case:

…which I think is awesome.  It has an Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 processor, a Gigabyte GA-965P-DS3 motherboard, 4x1GB Corsair DDR2 800 memory, a GeForce 8500 GT 512MB graphics card, a Western Digital Caviar Black 500GB hard drive (as well as a Transcend 160GB external hard drive), an Antec TruePower 550W power supply, and a Lite-On 22x DVD burner.  All but the burner, hard drives, and case (obviously) are hand-me-downs from Erik.  However, to me this is still a kick-ass setup – much better than the laptop I’ve been using for the last four years.

Building it was a lot of fun; he supervised, and helped with a few things.  But I really did much of it myself, and I have the cut to prove it:

The computer runs 64 bit Vista, which I am enjoying.  I finally have a graphics card that can handle gaming!  It’s also nice to have more than the 80G of storage space that my laptop was limited to.  All in all, I am very pleased with my new computer.  Thanks hun!  🙂

Attitude is everything.

This afternoon on my way out the door, I glanced over at my roommate’s backpack and noticed a button that read, “Attitude is everything.” My first thought was “Jee, that’s corny,” but on the drive to work I started thinking about that button. . .

Attitude. The moment I started thinking about my attitude and how it affects the way I experience things, I resolved to have a positive one. Instead of dreading going work and having to deal with obnoxious patrons, why not try to make the most of it? After all, what if the patrons aren’t really that obnoxious, and I’m just making it worse by coming into the situation with a negative attitude? I immediately felt somehow cheerful, despite the fact that I was walking into work amidst the 100 degree heat.

Instead of feeling resigned to a boring afternoon at the library, I felt so refreshed that I took time to notice the perfect sunflowers growing through the chain-link fence surrounding a nearby construction site, and the mud that swirled and cracked around the bulldozers. I saw the beauty hidden within my everyday experience. It’s there, if I’m willing to take notice. . . I’m thinking I might start a photo diary. I’m always wishing that I would take more pictures; maybe if I always carry my camera, and take pictures of everything that inspires or interests me, I’ll start living in the moment and enjoying it, instead of deeming it boring before I even get there.

Artistic Discovery

I was given an account on this blog, so I thought I’d make my first post about something outside his usual scope – art.

Today at work I came across a new magazine shipment and flipped through the pages of an issue of Art Lies. A piece by an artist called Andrea Zuill caught my eye, so I checked out her site. Her pieces are surreal and darkly humorous; here are a few good ones:




“Elephant Dancing”

“My Time as a Bear”

And here is a sculpture called “Grunt with Bow”

I enjoyed her work. Her site is