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Wouldn’t it be nice if your phone could help pay for itself? Or at least help ease the burden of monthly bills and other expenses? Turns out, there is a way to earn a small return for simply possessing and using a smartphone.

A handful of companies pay you to install their market-research apps on your phone or other electronic device and pay you for every month the app remains installed. Some even kick in bonus loyalty payments along the way.

Some of the leading names in this arena are Verto Analytics, The Nielsen Company and Survey Savvy, each of which have their own research programs and associated apps that reward consumers for participation.

The payments and rewards are by no means gigantic — averaging around $5 per month — but in some cases there are sign-up bonuses and increased bonuses for remaining a participant over an extended period of time. For example, Smart Panel, the Verto Analytics program adds up to about $110 in 12 months, or $230 in 24 months, when you factor in loyalty payments.

Here’s a closer look at each program and what digital experts say to consider before installing market-research apps of any type on your devices. (Only Verto Analytics responded to our requests for comment.)

Smart Panel by Verto Analytics

Launched in 2012, Smart Panel is a research project run by Verto Analytics focused on collecting information about how people use the internet through computers, smartphones and tablets. The goal is to understand how people interact with each other, as well as with websites, apps and devices. The program relies on participants agreeing to install the Smart App.

“Smart App runs in the background while anonymously and securely collecting statistical data about how devices are used,” said Verto Analytics’ senior vice president of marketing, Alison Murdock. “The data collected relates to the general usage of devices, device features, apps and services.”

Since its creation, more than 1 million people have participated in Smart Panel, said Murdock.

Participants are paid $5 for signing up and $5 for every month of involvement. After 90 days, they receive a $5 loyalty bonus. After six months, the loyalty bonus increases to $10, and after nine months it becomes $15. Every quarter after that, there’s another $15 loyalty bonus. Payments are made via PayPal, or you can opt for Amazon gift cards.

Survey Savvy Software by Savvy Connect

Savvy Connect, founded in 1999, pays people for downloading its Survey Savvy software. The software monitors your internet habits to identify trends, particularly those tied to online shopping, searches and entertainment. (Here are some tips for better internet safety.)

The company pays $5 per month, per device, for installing its software on web-connected devices. (This is a departure from Smart Panel’s payment structure, which does not pay per device). Payments are made by check.

In addition to having an extensive privacy policy that must be reviewed before signing on, Survey Savvy’s website says participants can opt to occasionally use private browsing mode on their devices, which blocks data from being collected when in use. However, extensive private browsing can impact your participation status.

Nielsen Mobile Panel by The Nielsen Company

If you watch television, you’ve likely heard of The Nielsen Company and its ratings system. In addition to measuring how many people watch a particular television show, Nielsen measures your activity on your phone, tablet or other mobile device with Nielsen Mobile Panel. Participation in the program involves downloading the Nielsen Mobile app and then using your mobile device as you normally would.

All the data collected and transmitted as part of the Nielsen Mobile Panel program is encrypted and anonymous, according to Nielsen’s website. The program pays up to $50 annually. Payment is made in the form of Nielsen Mobile Rewards points that can be spent at the Nielsen Mobile Rewards online store, which sells gift cards from Amazon.com, Target and Starbucks. Participants can also opt to save rewards for bigger purchases such as flatscreen televisions and digital cameras.

A Few Words of Caution

“Before you install these types of apps, a consumer should really understand what data it is collecting,” said Thomas Fischer, global security advocate for Digital Guardian, a Massachusetts-based data-loss prevention software company. “Read the description and make sure you understand what will be sent back to the company.”

Fischer, who had not specifically reviewed any of the apps in this story but offered general advice about the security of such programs, also noted the apps’ potential to invade your privacy. (You can check your free credit scores for signs of mischief on Credit.com.)

“One example might be capturing your contact data, which they could use to see who you contact on a regular basis and then begin building patterns of your contacts, or worse, taking those contacts and sending marketing messages that look like they’re coming from you,” said Fischer.

In response to such concerns, Murdock of Verto Analytics said the company only provides aggregated, projected, non-personal information to the market and fully protects consumers’ personal data. Further, she said, Verto secures all data with 256-bit encryption, and stores information in a siloed system that includes multiple physical parts. The result is that company employees cannot connect consumers to specific research data.

Image: Cecilie_Arcurs

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