Survey bots are computer programs designed to automatically complete online surveys. Professional survey cheaters use them to earn commissions for surveys, win contests, or sabotage competitor research.

When survey bots infiltrate your survey, you’ll likely end up with inaccurate data that doesn’t reflect your target audience’s opinions. This inaccurate data can mislead you into taking wrong data-driven decisions.

In this article, we will explore how survey bots, their implications, and how to mitigate them.

Understanding Survey Bots

Survey bots are also known as “form bots” or “survey automation tools.” They are computer programs designed to automatically complete online surveys.

Survey bots are typically programmed with scripted answers, which leads to false or misleading information in surveys. In most cases, these scripted answers do not fit the opinion of the survey’s target population, compromising the survey data quality.

Motivations Behind Creating and Deploying Survey Bots

  1. Earning commissions: Some survey sites hire third-party organizations or affiliates to send out surveys to consumers. These third-party organizations tend to use survey bots to inflate the number of survey participants to earn higher commissions.
  2. Winning contests: Incentives such as prizes or rewards also motivate participants to use bots to cheat in surveys. Participants use these bots to create multiple accounts and answer surveys quickly to increase their chances of winning.
  3. Sabotaging competitors: Competitors also use survey bots to submit invalid responses, overload the survey server, and spam survey invitation emails.

Common Types of Survey Bots Used for Fraudulent Activities

  1. Speeding Bots: these bots are designed to complete surveys as quickly as possible. They typically do this by skipping questions or providing random answers
  2. Botnets: These are networks of computers infected with malware used for controlling survey bots and taking surveys.
  3. Fraudulent Bots: Fraudulent bots provide false or misleading information in surveys by scraping the internet for data or generating random answers.

Read Also – Survey Speeders: Managing Respondent Speeding in Surveys

The Impact of Survey Bots Fraud

  • Inflating the Number of Responses

Survey bots can inflate the number of responses to a survey and make it appear that the survey is more popular than it is. This skews the survey results and reduces your data quality.

  • Misleading Data

Another major issue with survey bots face is leading researchers to make misinformed decisions and conclusions. For example, if you collect data about a product’s rebrand and the majority of responses are bots, you may rebrand to a version your real users don’t want.

  • Undermining the Representativeness of Samples

Survey bots can undermine the representativeness of samples by introducing bias into the data. For example, a survey with its major respondents being bots will probably have its data skewed toward an opinion that doesn’t represent the actual view of the target population.

How To Detect Survey Bots

1. Signs and Patterns That Indicate the Presence of Survey Bots

  • Abnormally fast completion rate- Survey bots are built to rapidly answer questions, so they are typically able to complete surveys much faster than humans.
  • Inconsistent responses– Survey bots tend to follow a pattern of predetermined responses, so they will probably answer the same question differently if it’s in a different order.
  • Duplicate responses– One of the major motivations for using survey bots is to earn higher commissions. So most professional survey cheaters create multiple accounts and submit duplicate responses with bots.
  • Unusual Navigation– Survey bots may click on links or buttons in a way that is different from humans. For example, a bot may click on all of the links on a page in a very short amount of time.
  • Irrelevant responses– Most bots don’t understand survey questions, they only provide preprogrammed answers. So, with open-ended questions, bots tend to submit very generic responses that are not relevant to the survey question or leave the question blank.

2. Techniques and Tools for Bot Detection in Survey Data

  • Captcha: CAPTCHAs are a challenge-response test that helps you distinguish between humans and bots. For example, a CAPTCHA challenge can ask respondents to prove they are human by solving an image puzzle or typing a distorted text.
  • IP address tracking: Bots often use the same IP address to complete surveys, so once you see the same IP address popping in the same survey repeatedly, it’s probably a bot.
  • Statistical analysis: You can also compare common stats to identity bots. For example, the average completion rate for bots is higher than for humans.  
  • Fraud detection software: You can also use fraud detection software to identify and ban bots from participating in your survey.

However, detecting survey bots can be challenging. Bots are becoming more sophisticated, which makes them behave more sentient and harder to distinguish from people.

Also, developing detection software with large databases for studying bots is typically expensive. This makes survey fraud detection software expensive and difficult to afford for small to medium-sized companies.

Strategies to Combat Survey Bot Fraud

1. Secure Survey Platforms

Using secure survey platforms protects your user data and ensures you are collecting quality data with security measures such as CAPTCHAs, IP address tracking, and response analytics.

2. Two-Factor Authentication (2FA)

You can also implement two-factor authentication as an extra layer of security for surveys. It will help you confirm users’ email addresses or phone numbers before they can participate in surveys. It also makes it easier for you to filter out fake email and phone numbers.

3. Study User Stories

Look at what respondents do while answering survey questions to detect unnatural patterns. For example, survey bots tend to answer and click links very rapidly, noticing this in respondent behavior enables you to flag responses and prevent them from comprising your data validity.

4. Machine Learning and AI

You can also use machine learning and AI to develop smart bot detection software. AI-based algorithms and machine learning can help you distinguish bots from humans by learning human behavior patterns and identifying unnatural patterns in survey responses, IP addresses, and other relevant survey data.

5. Collaborative Efforts and Sharing Best Practices within the Research Community

Experiences are gems; leverage other survey researchers’ experience with bots to develop strategies for combating survey bot fraud. This will help you avoid common mistakes, and find innovative ways to prevent and detect survey bots.

Case Studies of Survey Bot Fraud

Case Study 1- Election

Political parties can use survey bots to portray their candidates in a favorable light to the public. This can trigger the bandwagon effect– people want to be on the winning side, so if a poll says one of the candidates has a better shot at winning, people will most likely vote for them.

Case Study 2- Product Development

Companies collect user feedback to improve and develop products. If there’s a survey bot infiltration, companies could draw wrong conclusions because of inaccurate decisions, and end up developing products that don’t fit the needs or interests of their target audience.ca

Consequences and Aftermath of Bot-Driven Survey Manipulation

1. Compromises Data Integrity

False or misleading responses by bots affect your decisions and actions. These inaccurate responses could negatively impact product development, marketing, policies, and other decisions.

2. Reduces Researchers Credibility

You could also lose trust and reputation with stakeholders and audiences, who may question your integrity and competence.

For example, respondents may feel like you don’t respect their opinion because you didn’t implement the feedback they gave in the survey. This could discourage them from participating in your future research.

3. Creates Risky Legal and Ethical Complications

You can also face legal or ethical issues if survey bots access or share user data. False conclusions from the compromised data can also have legal implications.

Lessons Learned from Case Studies

These case studies show that survey bots fraud has serious consequences for democracy, trust, and decision-making. They also highlight the need for better detection and prevention methods, such as advanced analytics, and machine learning.

Recommendations

Clearly state your research methods, limitations, and data source to avoid ethical and legal issues. Acknowledge any errors or biases that may affect your results. Respect the privacy and rights of your respondents.

Mitigating the Impact of Survey Bot Fraud

Be intentional about finding survey bots in your research; check for duplicate, inconsistent, and irrelevant responses. Also, validate respondent details such as emails, IP addresses, and others.

Another factor to consider is that your survey is probably not the only one that survey cheaters are trying to exploit. Compare your survey to other sources, if you notice very similar responses, rigorously validate the data to ensure they are not from the same respondents, or scripted.

Also, take quality control measures to ensure you prevent and eliminate survey bots from your research. For example, using CAPTCHAs, IP address tracking, monitoring responses, and educating administrators as well as participants about survey fraud and its implications.

Some Beneficial Applications of Survey Bots

Survey bots are not inherently bad; they have significant benefits that help you ethically speed up your research and improve your data quality. This allows you to collect data more effectively, reach a wider audience, and remove grunt work from research by eliminating repetitive tasks.

Here are some ethical use cases for survey bots:

  1. Gathering market research data: Survey bots can help you collect data faster from respondents to understand customer preferences, identify new market opportunities, and improve products and services.
  2. Testing website usability: You can also use survey bots as part of your user experience research. Set up bots to perform tasks on websites, see how intuitive the navigation is, and identify areas for improvement.
  3. Detecting fraud: Survey bots also helps you to detect fraudulent activity, such as spam and phishing. This enables you to protect users from financial and identity theft.

Conclusion

Survey bots are a real threat to your research data integrity. They can drastically reduce the validity and reliability of your data, wasting your time, and money.

There are different approaches to avoid and mitigate survey bots fraud, such as using reputable survey platforms, CAPTCHAs, and other human verification techniques. However, survey bots fraud is constantly evolving, you have to explore advanced fraud detection methods such as machine learning, and data analytics to effectively keep bots out of your research.


  • Moradeke Owa
  • on 8 min read

Formplus

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