Beware a market research company called Toluna (Test & Vote)
Image by schoschie
I am posting this to warn you about this company called Toluna. They are a market research firm that conducts polls and surveys for their clients.
I came across them via an ad on Facebook. They were advertising "Try out products for free", and I like trying out products, so I completely fell for it and registered with them. I felt a bit stupid about it even then, and it turns out my gut feeling was completely right.
It turns out this company entices you to do market research work for them basically for free, by baiting you with offers and promises that they don’t keep. Of course, there are a number of fraudsters that do this kind of stuff, but usually you can tell if they are a fraud right from the beginning. However, Toluna’s furtiveness in this regard is such that I am taking the time to write about this and warn you about them.
The bottom line is: you’re not going to lose money, but you’re going to lose a lot of time if you fall for them. But the worst part is the feeling of being lied to, being deceived and cheated upon. I’d like to spare you this experience, so bear with me.
Their business model is as follows: you register with them, and they will invite you to answer various polls and surveys for their clients. As a reward, you get a number of points, depending on how long the survey/poll takes to answer. You can then take those points and exchange them a) for lottery tickets or b) for Amazon vouchers. It sounded like a good deal: answer some surveys, and get stuff from Amazon. Count me in!
I got an average of five to ten such invitations per week (guessing off the top of my head now). In the beginning, I was very curious, so I actually answered most of these surveys. They were usually big-market mass-consumption products and services, such as branded foods and telecommunications services.
One of the very first surveys I answered was about a well-known Italian coffee maker who were deciding on a name for a new product they were going to release to the market. I found it very interesting to get this kind of look behind the scenes, and to take part in deciding the new name for a product. Of course, they had already decided on a selection of candidates for the name – I didn’t get to submit my own names –, but still, when do you get to choose a name for a new product that will sell worldwide? So – I was hooked and kept going back to the surveys.
Unfortunately, after the first few interesting surveys, the quality of the surveys declined sharply. Now, there was just pretty mindless and typical market research stuff, the kind of which bores you to tears before you’ve even done 10% of it. Usually, these surveys were exceptionally long and took up to half an hour to complete. I was beginning to doubt I should be putting this much time into the matter.
(As an aside, many of the surveys were full of bugs and errors, the kind of which I just can’t ignore as a communications designer. Some of these were downright stupid, some were irritating. I took some screenshots even: flickr.com/search/?q=survey&w=87569910@N00 . It struck me that, instead of providing a unified interface for all these surveys, Toluna would just re-direct to the client, each of whom would provide their very own survey interface. After having seen about ten different such interfaces, I began to wonder if it was customary for designers of online surveys to ignore everything there was to know about user interface design on the web. Some of them actually bothered to jump through all kinds of hoops to make their own proprietary form elements, instead of just using standard HTML forms.)
To make matters worse, I was getting many invites to surveys that were obviously not addressing me. Usually, when you begin a survey, there are a couple of questions to find out if you’re part of the target audience. If you’re not, the survey ends and you get no reward points.
Fair enough, but usually I had already answered quite a lot of questions, giving out personal information which is extremely valuable for market researchers, before being told that I didn’t "fit in". To me, it seemed like a scam: grab my personal info off me, and then tell me to bugger off. We just took your data, but no, you’re not getting any reward.
Sometimes, they would just kick me out because "the number of participants had already been reached". Fine, but why do they make me answer part of the survey and then suddenly find out they already have enough of them? Things were starting to smell rather fishy.
After a couple of months, I had completed a considerable number of surveys, and the majority of them kicked me out after taking my info. Those that didn’t were long-winded and boring. I was losing interest rather acutely. Now that I had given Toluna so much of my time, I wanted a reward. I checked up on the points I had accumulated, happily looking forward to the promised Amazon voucher.
But alas, I found out it would need 80,000 points to get a 20 € voucher. I had something like 20,000 points, equalling around 5 hours of survey-completing work. Let me quickly do the numbers: 1 hour of filling out forms = ~4000 points. 80,000 points = 20 € = 20 hours of doing surveys. I was doing work for them at 1€ an hour.
I decided this wasn’t worth it, and I was not going to do a zillion more surveys to get my Amazon voucher. Instead, I opted for the lottery tickets. I would get a bunch of them, so my chances of actually winning something wouldn’t be too bad (I thought). I exchanged all my points for tickets. They told me they would send them to me.
So what about those product tests they talked about when they enticed me to register with them? I had to confirm my interest in those tests on their website, which I did. I selected those categories of products I would be interested in. A selected, small number of products would be sent to random testers. I wasn’t betting on my chances of actually being sent a product for testing, and certainly I never received any. But now I’m thinking nobody who registered with Toluna probably ever received anything.
A couple of months later, I have never received a single ticket. My points are gone. I am still getting something like 10 requests a week to complete surveys.
They took my data and sold it to a couple of big-money companies. I got no reward. I feel lied to and cheated upon.
Today, I deleted my account. I have no idea what they are going to do with my personal data.
I got this e-mail confirmation (screenshot above), and it says it will take them a couple of weeks to delete my account. They must be joking: deleting an account is a database operation that takes a fraction of a second.
To me, Toluna is a scam operation. Don’t fall for them. I’ve certainly learned my lesson.
Pass this on to your friends to warn them if you think they’d fall into Toluna’s clutches.