My Secret Vice

Are we alone? Is anyone reading your computer over your shoulder? Is it safe? I’m going to let you in on a dirty little secret of mine. I take surveys online. All the time. Sometimes they want my opinion on various products and brands, and sometimes they want me to test new products.

I take surveys from three or four different companies, and typically I earn points which can be accumulated and then redeemed for cash or gift cards. There are a couple of companies that pay quite nicely. We’re talking $2 to $5 for a single survey — and I can determine whether I receive it as an Amazon gift card or money in a PayPal account. I choose Amazon, of course, to fund my Kindle habit.

I’ve become a member of other focus groups as a result of these surveys. With one panel, I got to help name a new chocolate product. With another one, I’m going to be giving my opinion about e-readers. I just signed up for that one because it pays with Amazon gift cards, too.

Some of the surveys I take are long and arduous — very repetitious and mind-numbingly boring. Others are short and sweet, and they make me think about the choices I make when I shop. I enjoy the product testing. I’ve tested Lean Cuisine’s snack wraps, and a body lotion that I think was being developed by Curel. They don’t tell me what the brand name is, but sometimes I can guess.

All of the surveys come to me by e-mail — I receive a link and log in and give my birthdate or a password. I haven’t received any more (or any less) junk mail or spam, so I know they’re reliable about not passing on information I’ve given them. That was a major concern.

There was also one company that wanted me to download a program that would keep track of where I surf online. Nope, not gonna do that one. Just a little too Big-Brotherish for my tastes.

At any time, I can quit taking the surveys and opt out, cutting my e-mails in half. I haven’t yet, because I enjoy taking surveys. I’m much more brand-conscious and more aware of advertising. I stay current on new products and technology, too.

A couple of the companies offer games at the ends of their surveys. One is like a slot machine. I don’t bother taking my chances there. I usually make a donation to the American Red Cross instead. Another game is to guess the percentage. A typical question might be: What percentage of people have been bungie jumping? Some of the results are surprising. Then, depending on how close you are, you get a number of points to put toward a virtual raffle.

I haven’t won anything big yet, but I am expecting a $50 check from one of the companies. I had to earn lots of points for that one.

So, now you want to know the names of these companies? Well, OK, I’m not going to give you exact addresses, but you can google Global Test Market and Opinion Outpost. Those are two of the companies I hear from the most. They do lots of surveys for all kinds of companies. I’ve taken surveys on everything from candy to financial institutions.

And I’m going to keep my eye open for new chocolate candy. Maybe they’ll use the name I preferred.