In a market research ecosystem, data quality is paramount. Many factors, such as fraud, have an impact on quality outcomes. In his most recent article for Research Live, “Fraud Alert: Ghost Completes” Cint COO JD Deitch addresses the issue of fraud in market research, specifically surrounding insecure redirect links. Those “malevolent users” who participate in this type of fraudulent behaviour are growing, using automation and technology to trick the system by linking credit points to their accounts without completing a survey. Fraud like this directly impacts data quality.
In the article, JD first defines how this type of fraud works. At a basic level, a ghost complete arises “when a user qualifies for an incentive as if he or she completed a study, yet there is no data collected.” This manipulation of the system is done primarily by taking advantage of unencrypted redirect links, ultimately skewing data and impacting quality.
Suppliers often bear the hard costs of this behaviour, as they are only paid for the “real” completes when it is all said and done. With varying levels of sophistication and effectiveness, suppliers employ a number of techniques, weighing fraud minimization efforts with respondent ease of access. They must find the “right balance of defensive measures that allow enough good people to pass while stopping the bad.”
This burden of stopping ghost completes generally lies with the supplier, because buyers lack a strong economic incentive to stop them. This doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try. “Whether buyers recognise it, there are consequences that make it essential for them to care. Insecure links on the front-end of the survey can enable fraudulent entry to studies, facilitating other undesirable behaviour that leads to bogus data.” And the conversation, again, comes back to quality.
JD then dives into two key practices that buyers can take to battle this behaviour:
Server-to-server callbacks: Callbacks are communications between machines, invisible to users, that very effectively mitigate the problem
Link encryption: Sophisticated link hashing to encrypt links makes it practically impossible to identify the parameters being passed and thus manipulate those links.
While acknowledging that there are other techniques, he maintains that the above two approaches are most effective in today’s technological landscape. In fact, Cint recently put these practices into action with Confirmit, putting server-to-server redirects in place with their development team. He writes: “Bringing this kind of functionality to all major data collection platforms can benefit the entire industry….Transparency and decisive action are good for the ecosystem and will ultimately convince buyers that the industry takes the issue seriously.”
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