(Credit: Screenshots: Download.com/Tom McNamara)

The world of survey taking is dogged by one question: Are the people who don't answer surveys different from the people who do? It can never be answered to anyone's satisfaction, because the very avoidance of polling makes the unknown group difficult to know.

What you can do, however, is incentivize as many people as possible to lift your response rate, and an Australian tech startup named ClearPoll has an interesting idea about how to do that.

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ClearPoll's app (Android, iOS) combines blockchains and cryptocurrency into a new initiative that it says is highly resistant to manipulation, and possibly more likely to get responses thanks to the steady trickle of crypto offered to poll participants. With a blockchain, entries are permanently recorded in a shared, public ledger. In theory, this makes poll data more trustworthy.

ClearPoll boldly claims that their platform "is set to become the new standard in recording, sharing and reporting of true public opinion on any topic." Of course, it won't be of any use to the segment of pollsters who make a living on fudged numbers and deliberately misleading questions. But if we can use something like ClearPoll as a seal of authenticity, then we may be able to start separating the legitimate organizations from the political operatives.

It's important to point out, however, that even blockchains can't protect you against poor sampling. If a poll is open to anyone who wants to take it, then you're unlikely to get a representative selection of participants.

In that scenario, the probability that your results are accurate is low, even though the validity of the individual votes is provably high. So ultimately, ClearPoll's solution doesn't solve all the issues of survey taking, but blockchains are a step in the right direction because they help secure the integrity of the raw data.

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There's also a social aspect to ClearPoll. You can add your friends if you know their username, then you can optionally share with them the polls you're participating in. This feature is enabled by default.

But despite the transparency, there are some questions that ClearPoll doesn't answer. Who is commissioning these polls? Sometimes it's celebrities, but the overwhelming bulk of them make no mention of who is benefiting from the information, what they intend to do with it, who they're allowed to distribute it to, or how long they can keep the data.

Also, is cryptocurrency enough to make people not mind about what's being done with their survey answers?

If you change your mind about the ClearPoll app, there is an option in the settings to delete your account and your profile data -- but your poll answers will remain in the blockchain.

The takeaways

  • An Australian tech startup named ClearPoll is using blockchains to secure the integrity of answers given to survey questions in their mobile app. Users are given small amounts of cryptocurrency to encourage participation.
  • While blockchains may make survey data resistant to manipulation, they don't address the problem of getting a selection of participants who are representative of the group as a whole, so the results may still be inaccurate, even if the survey data is secure.

Also see

Tom McNamara is a Senior Editor for CNET's Download.com. He mainly covers Windows, mobile and desktop security, games, Google, streaming services, and social media. Tom was also an editor at Maximum PC and IGN, and his work has appeared on CNET, PC Gamer, MSN.com, and Salon.com. He's also unreasonably proud that he's kept the same phone for more than two years.