Is Panel Aggregation just an elaborate Ponzi scheme?

online panelsToday we are amidst a heated debate of proprietary panel v/s. panel aggregation – the lines have been drawn – the sides have been taken – the weapons sharpened – only if you have been living under a rock you would be unaware of the turmoil faced by the online panel industry. Someone has rightly said “we all see the evil; we all know the evil but it takes a brave soul to speak up” – today we are at a cross road where a burning question is haunting us – is panel aggregation merely a Ponzi scheme out there to dupe market researchers of their credibility and hard work. The article illustrates 5 similarities between panel aggregation and Ponzi schemes – I leave it to the readers to decide based on their best of judgement.

What is a Ponzi scheme?

A Ponzi scheme is a fraudulent investment operation that pays returns to its investors from their own money or the money paid by subsequent investors, rather than from profit earned by the individual or organization running the operation.

REASON 1: A Ponzi scheme sells an imaginary promise!!

The very first question you should ask yourself – What VALUE a panel aggregator brings on the table?

If you ask me – NONE!!!

1- In a Ponzi scheme the only people benefiting are the ones running the show; in panel aggregation the ones actually benefiting are the aggregators as they are profiting from marked up sample cost – which you could have avoided by simply looking for the right panel companies in the ESOMAR Directory!!!!

2- In a Ponzi scheme you are promised enormous PROFITS – although in the end you don’t get anything; in panel aggregation you are promised ONE STOP SHOP solutions – although what you actually get is sample from dubious sources.

3- In a Ponzi scheme the culprits simply vanish away with your money; in panel aggregation the players are very small and they don’t have much credibility – one fine day they will simply vanish away – of course after ruining YOUR reputation in the market.

4- In a Ponzi scheme they play with your GREED; in panel aggregation they play with your demand for low cost even at the sake of compromising on quality.

5- In a Ponzi scheme they keep on coming in the market under different names; in panel aggregation if a company is blacklisted they would open up another one to dupe you.

6- In a Ponzi scheme investors rarely know about the actual kingpins; in panel aggregation the real owners never come in the front – that is the biggest reason in panel aggregation business the owner names are never mentioned in the ‘ABOUT US’ section of their website.

7- In a Ponzi scheme it is too late before you realize of the FRAUD; in panel aggregation by the time you realize that you have been given BAD DATA it is too late and you have to face the heat from your client.

On one hand market researchers would hassle with you for every dollar on other hand they are willing to give 20%-30% marked up sample cost to get “one stop shop solution” from panel aggregators – if this is not STUPIDITY then what else is??

Panel aggregation is a lot like a Ponzi scheme as in the latter the main idea is to swindle people of their hard earned money. In a Ponzi scheme they promise you double or triple the returns in an unbelievable short time – as the people running a Ponzi scheme have no intention to return back your money – they make BIG HOLLOW claims.

REASON 2: A Ponzi scheme benefits just the initial few users!!

Few days back someone asked me – why are you so much against panel aggregation?

I simply said “Coz someone has to STAND UP against this FRAUD”.

If you are a panel aggregator and make lots of money would I get any benefit from it – NO!!

If you are a panel aggregator and suffer huge losses would I be the one compensating you – NO!!

So whether you make money or lose money in the panel aggregation business it doesn’t affect my life in any way what so ever.

My resistance to it is as follows – IT CORRUPTS THE YOUTH!!

Initially people who started panel aggregation made money because of the information gap in the market – so if I knew a proprietary panel provider in Japan – I would claim to have a panel there and get projects from clients in USA – who were unaware of the panel providers in Japan. So in the initial days people did made tons of money through this method.

As the time went by the clients became more and more aware of the ACTUAL panel providers – resulting in diminishing profits of panel aggregators. But what happened terribly wrong was that the young people in this industry saw a fake opportunity of making quick bucks.

People started leaving their jobs in great numbers to start their own panel aggregation business – as expected they were too late and are now stuck without job and no money from the business. The panel aggregation business has created such a false mirage that it has ruined many promising career.

Today the situation is so worse that young professionals are even when working for a company, as a side business are creating a fake website and trying to make easy money – the ethics is DEAD in our industry today!!

People who have NO experience of this industry are opening up online panel companies – the latest to join the bandwagon are the field data collection companies – few of them claiming to have online panels in 50 countries – which is surprising as that number of countries are not being covered by even the top 3 online panel companies of the world.

In Ponzi scheme the initial investors make money and create a pyramidal structure where they feed upon the new entrants. In panel aggregation the initial players have made money and are now in the game to just suck dry whatever they can lay their hands on. All the new players are bound to fail miserably.

We should raise our voice and STOP careers ruined by taking a strong stand – let us SAVE our young generation from falling prey to a false dream called – panel aggregation.

online panels

REASON 3: A Ponzi scheme ruins the entire financial eco system!!

After every Ponzi scheme hitting the market – the financial economy of the country gets destabilized for a long time. All the hard work that has gone to build a strong ecosystem is destroyed by such fraudulent schemes.

I can very well understand the plight of the proprietary panel providers – who have spent considerable amount of money and man power to create their panels. It is not feasible for them to compete with panel aggregators who are sourcing from dubious means. There are some panel aggregators who are ACTUALLY filling up your surveys by themselves!!!

The situation has come to such a standstill that some panel aggregators are willing to offer you panels for as low as 30-50 cents!!! – I have built online panels for a few companies and it is IMPOSSIBLE to even recruit good quality respondents at that price let alone to sell them.

As explained in point 2 – the initial advantage the panel aggregators had in terms of information gap is long gone. Now how do panel aggregators survive in the market – it is simple – source panels from vendors without even bothering to look at the quality.

I STRONGLY believe that here it is the market researchers who are to be blamed – data collection is an integral part of any research project – there is nothing you can do with a bad quality data. If panel aggregators are surviving in this market it puts a BIG question mark on the credibility and intention of the research community.


REASON 4: A Ponzi scheme lures in the dubious players!!

In a Ponzi scheme you will always find shady characters involved – it is quite obvious – the lure of the quick money will always bring in the wrong people.

Panel aggregation provides that platform – just create a workable website – make false claims: “Now we have our Online Panel in 50 countries” and VIOLA! You are a businessman.

Signs that wrong people are entering online panel companies:

– Companies with no online data collection experience.

– Companies opened by youngsters with just 3-4 years of experience.

– Companies no one knows who their owners are.

– Companies opened by direct marketers.

Reason 5: A Ponzi scheme shatters the FAITH of the investors!!

One of my old client recently told me that he is afraid of engaging Indian online data collection companies – because of the rampant data fudging cases reported.

Clients are scared today of outsourcing data collection to Asian companies – the FAITH in services has taken a beating!!

A genuine proprietary online company will say: what can we do if there are fraudsters in the market? we can’t STOP people from delivering dubious quality data.


For too long we have tolerated malicious practices – now is the time to raise our concerns – now is the time to set things right.

Investors duped by a Ponzi scheme will be scared for life to invest again – don’t let that happen with your client!!

Editor’s Note: Now that you have read this article -> 99.99% of you would move onto surfing something else on the internet – which is completely understandable – given the neutral stand you are so used to taking. I am counting on those 0.01% brave hearts who are going to share it to others and spread the message – to them I give my heartiest thanks – for them writing this article was worth the effort!!


  1. Great article! There is definitely a need for more transparency in the panel scoping process. By analyzing the speed of RFQ responses in PanelFinder we are able to weed out resellers from the quality panel providers. Emerging markets are somewhat more challenging because there are many new players. We are developing a new feature to rate panel providers – this would allow MR companies to feel more confident when working with new ‘untested’ vendors.

  2. Thanks for another interesting post Akshay!

    We can only welcome more transparancy in the industry. It is becoming harder to be able to offer an honest product with so much cluttering.


  3. Although I agree with the majority of this article especially the problems with hidden supply chains, lack of transparancy and numerous malicious practices, I think the article is being rather too sympathetic to panel companies should also differentiate between aggregating panels and broking sample – I also think its important to highlight that panel aggregation can mean different things to different people, especially as these days technology makes the ability to share panel resources much more achieveable.

    Please also be aware that brokering sample from dubious sources at bargain basement prices and marking up as described above is not just the practice of a few unscrupulous individuals or companies, but this practice is widespread amongst access panel companies too (in addition to using river sample without informing clients). Whenever there is a lack of transparancy of the source of sample this practice can and does take place.

    CINT aggregatates over 600 panels in 50 countries but I would argue strongly that the practices outlined in this article cannot be levelled at a company like CINT. Firstly all of these panels sit on one system so the ability to launch sample is fully automated and can be controlled fully by CINT or a DIY sample buyer. Importantly any client can log in to the system and run a feasability and price check across all the panels and actually see and choose what panels can be used for any given project – so the system is fully transparent unlike the access panel model.

    Thirdly Cint does not mark up the CPI of the panels on the system but instead takes a share of the revenue delivered to the panel owners. The efficiencies Cint delivers is that it is one point of access to hundreds of high quality, locally owned panels across the world.

    Aas the industry evolves and rises to challenges to online sample provision, we should see more companies like Cint on the forefront of developing solutions and providing tools for researchers to access real respondents.

  4. Panel aggregation is simply an indicator that this industry lacks innovation. Though panel aggregation is a step in the path towards better alternatives. There is plenty of work being done on how to properly sample the Internet. Panels are not the answer. The industry just needs to demand more and pay more for better data. Once again, MR is it’s biggest enemy.

  5. There is something key that is being missed here. I think this debate is really talking about brokering and the bad practices associated with that, which buyers experience out there in the market. Cint isn’t a broker any means. We are also not an access panel company either. Far from it. We do aggregate samples at a project level – if our clients wish – but Cint adds tremendous value in almost all aspects of the online sample value chain. Our ability to multi-source supply creation, automate quality standards that are unmatched in other models, and solve the current concern over long-term panel sustainability positions Cint as an evolution to the typical online sampling models seen in years gone by.

    Our marketplace platform provides automated solutions that enables panel management, targeted invitations to millions of global respondents, competitive marketplace for buyers and sellers of online sample, integration capability for survey software tools and third party panel systems via APIs, advanced profiling, respondent deduplication and many other quality metrics, all within a transparent user-interface that our clients can have access to if they wish (seelf-service / DIY channel) but that we offer up anyway as part of our managed services model when bidding out jobs.

    I don’t see any broker even doing part of this so I think it is important to understand and differentiate between brokering and sample blending and pure broker models vs firms who are investing millions into technology innovation and building out unique platforms and services.

  6. Thanks Akshay for narrating the real story that happens behind the scenes ! Unfortunately, it is difficult to contain unfair business practices since they are short-cuts to riches. Is there any way to “clean up” the current system and ensure transparency and accountability?

    Binu Zachariah

  7. Thanks you for this thought provoking article. One of my companies has been running online research panels in Africa for the fast 8 years and we provide panel to most of the international online panel companies. However, we are taking another look at this side of our business and we are starting an accreditation policy for supply of our sample.

    The problems that we have come across, and how we seek to manage them are;
    1. Poor design and tedious & boring surveys
    2. We don’t accept surveys over 30 minutes
    3. We plan to insist that the companies that we supply sample to switch off their geo-IP tracking – We have strong documentary evidence that it biases results and antagonises panellists. Besides, IP tracking itself is against some of the latest consumer protection laws, unless panellists are notified and agree..
    4. We also plan on insisting on description and notification of deployment of DFS (Digital Fingerprinting Systems) and access to the ID’s of our panellists that are denied participation. In the largest Internet market in Africa – Nigeria – over 50% share a computer at schools, universities & colleges, cyber cafes, workplace and home.
    5. We have a guardianship contract with our panellists and do not allow any research company or client to ask for contact details.

    The biggest problem and the one that should worry researchers the most is that almost all online research is web based and not mobile friendly. In Africa. more than half of people who access the Internet do so on mobile devices. I read last week that it is 1 in 8 Internet users in the US! Most mobile devices cannot render grids, can’t run Flash and many even have problem working with Java.

    We have yet to come across a online research company that is even remotely interested in addressing this problem and, as a consequence, are stepping up our efforts to offer our Multi-threaded technology to global clients.

  8. great article – kudos. that cartoon is on-point! it’s always amusing to receive an RFP for fielding your own project by some unknown company…