When Apple changed its privacy rules in April 2021 to require that companies get permission before collecting user data online, retailers and digital brands were left scrambling to find new avenues to amass information about shoppers.

The answer may lie in online surveys.

Prodege, a market research and consumer polling startup, attained unicorn status last month thanks to a service that rewards users for completing questionnaires and making purchases on its apps and websites like Swagbucks and MyPoints. The El Segundo-based company then sells information about shoppers’ habits and preferences back to market research firms and retail clients such as Walmart, Clorox and DoorDash.

“We get the member—the consumer—to give us their permission to have a quid pro quo,” said Prodege Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Chuck Davis, who was named CEO in 2014 and previously held the same role at movie ticket retailer Fandango and ecommerce website Shopzilla.

Founded in 2005 as a charity donation platform, the startup pivoted a year later to launching search engines for entertainers and sports teams. In exchange for using the search engines, consumers were entered in raffles to win merchandise. In 2008, Prodege introduced its first rewards site, Swagbucks, which gives cash back to members for filling out surveys, buying gift cards, and shopping at some 1,500 partner retailers. The company has since acquired six similar platforms, and has doled out a total of $1.8 billion in rewards to an audience of 120 million registered members.

Recent years have seen Prodege go on a buying spree as it has looked to grow its audience footprint. In 2020, it bought Massachusetts-based Upromise, a platform for cash-back rewards in the form of a 529 college savings plan. Earlier that year, it snapped up the Santa Monica-based coupon-cutter company Coupon Cause, which works with retailers like Target and Amazon. YSense, which it acquired in 2019, compensates users for testing new services and watching product videos.

In December, the company announced a “major” investment from Boston-based private equity firm Great Hill Partners. 

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