You may have seen advertising links that say something like "Microsoft pays you $300.00 for your opinion". There may even be ads like this on this page. If you followed through and clicked on one, you'd go to a site like Survey Scout or one of the many similar sites that offer up listings of companies who supposedly will pay you with cash, prizes or sweepstakes opportunities just for answering a few questions.
This isn't all pure hokum. There are companies that will pay you for your opinion. I've participated in a few of these myself, and have been paid. However, I've never gone actively looking for such opportunities, and only a few of those that approached me directly seemed to be legitimate or worthwhile. But for the purpose of education, I signed up with one of these survey listing companies, using a disposable email address. I do have to say one thing about their apparent honesty: they do actually advise you to use a disposable email address. On the other hand, their supposed "testimonials" from satisfied customers are obvious marketing materials, so that should make you a little suspicious right there. Yet, I also have to admit that they were fairly honest about the amount of effort and expected income to be had from this. I say "fairly" because while they did imply that a lot of work would be necessary to get signed up and registered with survey sites, I think they over estimated the potential reward by a factor of at least two to four and the available opportunities are probably a tenth of what they claim.
But never mind that. Let's say that it's really true that you could fill out a lot of surveys every month and pick up a few thousand dollars for your trouble. It's not true, but let's suspend reality for a moment. Would it be safe to do? That was the question in my mind from previous experience with dubious surveys. So, after forking over my entrance fee, I gained access to a listing of several hundred sites that supposedly were looking for paid survey takers.
Some of these sites really were legitimate. If you had the right qualifications (medical professional, teacher, materials enginerr, whatever they were looking for), you might pick up a few dollars for taking a survey. Some of the others were what you might call somewhat legitimate: they were themselves sites trying to sell you access to survey sites. I didn't pursue any of those far enough to see how much tail-chasing there is here; most of the sites did seem to be actual sites looking for survey participants.
Or were they? While some tell you right up front what they need ("Medical professionals"), others require registration where you tell them about yourself, so that they can decide if you would be appropriate for their surveys. Of course you aren't paying them anything, but neither are they paying you for this background information: supposedly they will offer you survey opportunities if your profile matches their needs. And that's the real problem with these things: the amount and type of information you are asked to provide is often disturbing.
Supposedly, this is just demographic information, and with some, that's all it is. For example, it's reasonable to expect that they might want to know your age in some range: 30-40, 40-55, etc. But many of these want your actual birth date. That's not information you should be handing out to random websites. But even when it's not that specific, the amount of demographic information requested seems to often be far more than what would be needed to determine if you might match their survey needs. In fact, it looks much more like they are collecting specific information about you which they then might be selling to mailing lists. In other words, you might just be helping spammers target you more directly.
But let's pretend that there's none of that going on. What about the actual surveys, should you ever have the patience to get that far. The real surveys, the ones you get paid for. What about those? Can you make money? Sure: if "making money" means getting perhaps less than minimum wage for providing a lot of personal information about yourself. I suppose you could create an entirely false persona that would provide the answers for these surveys, but that's a fair amount of work by itself. And the surveys, the real ones, the ones that actually will pay you cash, are often long, complicated, and really require industry knowledge that you are unlikely to be able to fake.
If you have expertise in some area, your opinions are sometimes valuable and you can sometimes get paid reasonable amounts of money for your time. Such opportunities are fairly rare, and definitely aren't common enough to consider as income opportunities. As the old advice says, "Keep your day job".
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More Articles by Tony Lawrence © 2012-07-20 Tony Lawrence
If Linux can skate by the patent and copyright issues, its growth in the corporate world will continue no matter what business dislikes about the GPL. (Tony Lawrence)