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.

33 thoughts on “GfK KnowledgePanel is a scam”

  1. I fell for it initially but when the survey started asking about my sexual preference and wether I have a gun or firearm in my garage i felt that was too creepy. Reading your post confirmed it’s more than market research. Thanks.

    1. MY NAME IS DENETRIA AYCOCK.AND I’VE ONLY GOTTEN $10:00 IN OVER A YEAR OR TWO. BUT THEY DID MAIL ME A LAB TOP COMPUTER. YOU KNOW OUT OF ALL THIS DAM! Time I’m just “NOW”!!!!! Hearimg back from there assses.and they call my home telling me on my answer manchine.that it’s time to do some survery. THE DEVIL IS A L I E

      1. Feel free to contact them on the phone number you have on the sticker on the inside of the laptop if you have any questions.

    2. I know it is 3 years old comment but I can at least provide information for whomever stumbles upon this comment. You can always opt out of surveys that you are not comfortable taking. If you think about it even those “taboo” questions have a value in research so it’s only natural someone will ask.

  2. Your first basic error is assuming that the probability distribution is uniformly random across the tiles — or even intended to be. While it may be visually misleading, that doesn’t deserve to be called “rigged”, as long as every player faces the same non-uniform probability distribution as every other player. (Since it’s likely familiar to many, I’ll note the “Daily Booster Wheel” in Candy Crush Saga is similarly non-uniform; “Disco Balls” tend relatively common, “Striped/Wrapped” rare, and the Jackpot vastly rarer than the one-eighth of the board it occupies.) I also suspect refreshing your browser is inadequate to fully reset its internals, especially as such an SWF would only be an interface to a backend; they have to track the use of entries.

    I would agree that the SODA Mobile sucks, in multiple ways. (It was so completely unusable in iOS that after 2 calls to customer service, they simply credited me with the survey points regardless.) The app appears to be asking for far more permissions than it minimally would seem to require. I suspect this reflects a fundamentally flawed development. However, some of these permissions you consider intrusive are needed for the surveys they’re trying to do; the sample I flogged through specifically asked for both a photo of a particular household item, and wanted an audio recording of me reading off a few words (seemed to be checking regional accent).

    Regarding Pat’s remark, I’ll note that while nosy, sexual preference and household gun ownership are standard classic questions in sociological research, in part due to having been found to have strong correlations to other variables of interest. The gold standard for social surveys in the US is NORC’s General Social Survey; I think GfK generally uses the exact same wording as the GSS does for “OWNGUN” and “SEXORNT“.

    Your first basic error is assuming that the probability distribution is uniformly random across the tiles — or even intended to be. While it may be visually misleading, that doesn’t deserve to be called “rigged”, as long as every player faces the same non-uniform probability distribution as every other player. (Since it’s likely familiar to many, I’ll note the “Daily Booster Wheel” in Candy Crush Saga is similarly non-uniform; “Disco Balls” tend relatively common, “Striped/Wrapped” rare, and the Jackpot vastly rarer than the one-eighth of the board it occupies.) I also suspect refreshing your browser is inadequate to fully reset its internals, especially as such an SWF would only be an interface to a backend; they have to track the use of entries.

    I would agree that the SODA Mobile sucks, in multiple ways. (It was so completely unusable in iOS that after 2 calls to customer service, they simply credited me with the survey points regardless.) The app appears to be asking for far more permissions than it minimally would seem to require. I suspect this reflects a fundamentally flawed development. However, some of these permissions you consider intrusive are needed for the surveys they’re trying to do; the sample I flogged through specifically asked for both a photo of a particular household item, and wanted an audio recording of me reading off a few words (seemed to be checking regional accent).

    Regarding Pat’s remark, I’ll note that while nosy, sexual preference and household gun ownership are standard classic questions in sociological research, in part due to having been found to have strong correlations to other variables of interest. The gold standard for social surveys in the US is NORC’s General Social Survey; I think GfK generally uses the exact same wording as the GSS does for “OWNGUN” and “SEXORNT“.

    1. To address your criticisms: sure, the ‘spins’ don’t have to have the same probability as its visualization, but then doesn’t that alone suggest dishonesty? It leads you to believe that you have a fair probability, by the visualization, when the reality is otherwise.

      Also, the swf was plainly embedded. I decided to download it and see if it makes any outside interactions (http or any other connections to anything on the web) – it doesn’t. Meaning, this is a static swf with no database interactions, your loss or win on this swf is not registered anywhere, and a refresh/retry is generally pretty conclusive on its functionality, since multiple attempts to download it results in the same md5 hash. The only possibility for you to get a ‘win’ version of this file would be if the site provided you a different swf in the event that they pre-decided you to be a winner, but the GfK site doesn’t appear to be put together well enough to have that sort of functionality. Plus, that alone strikes me as very dishonest: the ‘wheel’ is a ruse because you’ve already lost. I think my initial findings still stand.

      1. Who? Matt really… You do realize multiple people are posting or it appears as tho multiple people are posting. Could you give us a clue who you are referring to. I could guess but what if I was wrong and there was a bigger conspiracy in the works that you were trying to out? Wake up people this kind of crap is the way of the world. Could we get a survey about something important??? Oh sorry what was I thinking.

  3. I just received the following:

    “We are conducting a research study looking at attitudes towards journal publishers, and how satisfied you are with the services they provide to you. Your input is vital and the survey will take about 10 minutes to complete.

    This survey is being carried out by GfK UK Limited, an independent market research agency, on behalf of a leading publisher.

    As a token of our gratitude for completing the survey, we will make a $10 donation to your choice from a selection of charities.

    All information provided is completely anonymous, and will only be used for research purposes.

    To start the survey please click ONCE here: ….”

    $10 is very generous for a 10 minute survey. I don’t think I’ll click here. Not even ONCE.

  4. In fairness, Knowledge Panel does provide remuneration for your time, which is more than I can say for any other survey I’ve taken. Generally $1, but sometimes as much as $5. Average survey time is about 10-15 minutes – so maybe $5/hr, which is no biggy of course. Surveys are an important means of determining public opinion, so I’m OK with it when I have free time. I concur with the author about use of points and NEVER spend points on the Prize Wheel or other “prizes” – I just take the cash. However, I strongly disagree with the portrayal as a “scam” – It’s not a scam – it’s a survey company, plain and simple.

    I also looked into the mobile app and rejected it out of hand as an invasion of privacy and a problematic user of CPU – I fully concur that it should be avoided.

  5. This is NOT A SCAM! I’ve been participating for about 3 years. You need to make sure that you are using the correct website. I’ve gotten a multitude of prizes that I chose and probably about $300 in funds.

    1. I agree. I did lots of surveys I on different sites and never got anything. I already got a $50 check and a norelco multigroom shaving kit for my husband. I love knowledgepanel.

      1. I just starting doing this and so far never received my 10 dollars and no one will honor the 5 dollar check.so what do I do

  6. I’ve made $725 cash money since I started about 5 years ago. I disagree with majority of the negative comments here. I have never won anything on the spin wheel, but majority of the time you are getting $1 per survey at minimum. I’ve made $20+ on a single survey, on multiple occasions.

    Hit 25,000 points and use the cash out option for $25 check. Don’t need to mess with trying to buy items with points.

    1. The problem with the cash choice is how much time you’re putting in compared to how little you’re making per minute. You would make significantly more at any kind of part time job or online task gig. Or scouring parking lots for change. It’s for the gullible. Surveys start short and get longer the longer you’re a member, making the time/profit ratio laughable.

      1. I doubt a lot of people are gullible enough to think they can make a living off this >_>

        KP is a source of a little extra cash, for spending a little bit of time doing market research. That’s all!

        It’s not a scam; you ARE rewarded and compensated for your time. I have been doing surveys for KP for about 6 months now, and I have accumulated over 100,000 points, simply by taking on average 10-15 minutes a week to voice my opinion.

      2. No one is trying to live off the money they make doing surveys get a clue. You can’t get a part-time job and work whenever you want only when you want and stop in the middle and start when you want. Who breaks down money made doing surveys buy “per hour”. I only get one survey a month I’d be a pretty poor sucker if I was looking at it like that

  7. Hello people. I’m actually part of the Support team for KnowledgePanel and Screenwise Panel (both GfK projects). No one said you will get rich from these panels. It’s just another way to make some pocket change while voicing your opinion. You have a clear choice to join or to ignore our invitation that you received in the mail. You also have e-mail and toll-free support available for ~12 hrs every business day and ~8 on weekends. So please direct important queries there. While the incentives might not be worth is for some the article title is misleading. I enabled e-mail notifications so if you have questions or comments I’ll drop by and address them. And just to nib this in the bud: I’m not payed to come here and say anything, I don’t have any commission or any other gain from using my free time to be helpful. I’m with the company for 4 months and I see the work we do and believe in the scope, goals and services we provide, that’s it.

      1. I called the support team to find out who to contact to find out about surveys on important subjects like animal abuse because you know a survey a nationwide survey on the subject of animal abuse may have some effect on laws that could or might not go into play. Most people don’t see the subject of animal abuse in their daily lives. But it hasn’t sit down and actually think about it and give their opinion on the subject will bring it to light for a lot of people and it will also show that there are a lot more people in this world who feel we should do more to help our animals be safe. I was quickly told that you don’t do surveys like that and who’s going to pay for it so although you love your job Dan I fail to see the real importance and you know all that righteous stuff you just said if you want to be righteous get your company to do a survey on animal abuse. Maybe you can save a life

      2. And where exactly did I say, or even imply, that any of you are blind? And as I stated before, we are just the support team. We don’t have a say in what topics or questions show up in the surveys. Our role is to help out in case panel members encounter problems during the normal operation of surveys or the equipment we send out. We could also forward your feedback if you use the proper channels (aka not here but on the support e-mail for KnowledgePanel). But ultimately the topics or questions are requested by the clients that pay GfK to conduct the study.

        I’m glad you are passionate about the topic of stopping animal abuse but this is not the place where you can reach your target audience. If you truly want to make a difference join or start an NGO that is based around your beliefs. Who knows maybe one day that NGO will employ GfK to do studies for them. But until that point you are one in a crowd of people that are passionate about various topics and think we should have more surveys about those topics.

  8. The word “scam” is definitely a stretch. You may not find it worth your time, but they tell you the deal and come through on it. I can’t verify whether the wheel is rigged, but if you’re stupid enough to waste points on the wheel, you kind of deserve to lose them. I do imagine, however, that the chances of winning a prize are quite a bit less than 1 in 1000, so I’m not sure 1000 spins is really enough to say that the wheel never gives a win. I also note that your depiction of the wheel is misleading, as it only displays “grand prize.” I think the reason you don’t land on the pink section much is because those are really “1st prize,” “second prize,” etc. The wheel is going to weighted against landing on those as often. If you want them to make a visual representation that is not misleading, you’re going to need a wheel with several thousand wedges.

    Finally, you missed a few key points: 1) you don’t have to take 25 surveys to get 25 dollars. I frequently get surveys that are worth more than 1000 points. 2) These surveys are usually not very intense. I can take them while I watch TV. If I didn’t take the survey during that time, I’d be making 0 dollars per hour, so 3 or 5 dollars per hour is actually a raise. I can’t watch TV in the comfort of my home while scouring a parking lot for change. 3) You can pause a survey and come back to it, so if something important comes up while you’re taking one, it’s ok.

    If you don’t like knowledge panel, don’t use it. Calling it a scam, though, is not correct.

  9. I’ve been doing it for 15+ years. The surveys all pay different. I just took one that payed $15 for about 5 minutes of my time. Sometimes they take longer but I kind of like doing them 🙂

    1. And a really long time ago a lady came to my house and took some blood for $60. That was interesting. I’ve also driven to take surveys in person and was paid $100.

  10. I can provide some information about the company and some back story if you’re interested…

    Once upon a time (starting back in 2000), I was a supervisor at a market research firm in Westfield, NJ called Statistical Research. It was a small company that did telephone surveys and although small it was one of the most respected and highly regarded research companies in the country. SRI employed approximately 100 part time telephone interviewers that were well trained to be professional and business friendly with the public. I believe it was 2001 or 2002 that SRI was purchased by Knowledge Networks, a California research firm that was just starting out.

    Knowledge Networks completely changed the business model of the company, moved it to Cranford, NJ, and increased the number of interviewers to approximately 400 and kept up the quality standards in the beginning. That started changing and there was less attention payed to an interviewer achieving a good interview rate and more attention to how many calls they made. So much so that an automatic dialer was installed and that’s in my opinion is when the wheels started falling off. Subsequently the call center was closed in 2007 and the Knowledge Panel was in full swing. That was when I left the company because I wanted no part of the Knowledge Panel, it simply wasn’t what I signed on to do.

    The company slowly started to build what is now know as the Knowledge Panel. It started out by giving away WebTV Boxes and subscriptions (if you remember them). Or if you already had internet access they would pay for it for you as long as you did the surveys. As the migration to the Knowledge Panel increased the live telephone interviews decreased steadily which led to the loss of clients.

    And now I see that Knowledge Networks was purchased by GFK Group, which I have to admit I know nothing about. But it’s interesting to see that the Knowledge Panel is still going strong especially it was plagued with issues from the start. Many participants were not happy with the surveys mostly due to their length. But this was the fault of the company not being honest as to how long they were in the beginning to get people to sign up.

    If all you look at is the time versus the rewards you won’t sign up at all, but if you have spare time and like your opinions heard and like to feel like you’re making a difference you will enjoy taking the surveys. But the latter is not easy to find in today’s busy world.

    Anyway, I just thought some of you folks may find the back story interesting….
    Peace

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