OnMyWay Promises ‘Cash’ for Driving Safe — But There’s a Catch

Data collection, advertisements, and ‘sold out’ offers are all major roadblocks

Photo by JJ Ying on Unsplash

YYou should really put your phone down while you’re driving. You know that, and yet you still can’t resist taking a peek at the red light. But what if someone was paying you — really paying you — to keep your phone locked while you’re on the road? That’s OnMyWay’s pitch. Download the app, keep your eyes on the road, and earn money.

At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work. OnMyWay just needs to solve its cash flow problems first.

The app is currently having a moment: 750,000 people have downloaded OnMyWay since it launched in July, and it’s spent several days as the number one iOS app in the Lifestyle category. It detects when you’re driving by using your location data, then pays you a little cash for every mile you drive without unlocking your phone. Specifically, the app pays five cents per mile, plus an extra two cents for miles driven by everyone you refer to the service.

It’s pennies, but it can be enough to earn a couple bucks on your commute each day. In exchange, OnMyWay will show you “deals” — usually discounts on things like sunglasses, protein bars, or various products on Amazon — that users stumble across while they’re browsing for how to spend their hard-earned rewards. Advertisers and sponsors pay to place these deals in the app, ostensibly funding the rewards.

It’s not a brand new model. Apps like Google Opinion Rewards and Swagbucks also hand out pocket change for responding to survey questions and watching ads. But read OnMyWay’s fine print and you may question the value of what you’re getting. Its business model depends on gathering a truckload of data on users, while the rewards it promises are often unavailable or could take years to earn.

To sign up for the service, users hand over their email address, phone number, street address, date of birth, and even scan their driver’s license. Once in the app, users are asked to give OnMyWay access to their location (so it can track when they’re driving) and to their SMS messages (so it can reply to incoming texts with a boilerplate “I’m driving” message).

Co-founder Chloe Palmer says the company doesn’t sell that data, but that advertisers may access some of it if they purchase space to place a deal in the app. Though Palmer says any data about your trips is deleted “anywhere from one to five minutes” after you’ve stopped driving, she also says that the company will comply with any subpoenas it receives. Palmer also says all data stored on its servers is encrypted.

Images: OnMyWay

If the sheer amount of data OnMyWay collects — with only a promise from the company that it won’t do anything nefarious with it — doesn’t give you pause, the economics of the payout arrangement might.

In the app, users see a dollar value of the amount of “money” they’ve earned. But this label is slightly misleading. What you’re really earning is a proprietary currency called OnMyWay Cash. As Palmer explains to OneZero, “The OnMyWay Cash is more of a point system… we can exchange your miles and your referral number and your OnMyWay Cash for real money.”

To do this, users need to exchange their OnMyWay Cash for “deals,” or gift cards: $10 of the virtual currency earns a $10 Mastercard gift card, and $50 earns a $50 Walmart gift card. These “deals” are also how users transfer money they’ve earned to their bank, Venmo, or PayPal accounts. In other words, if users don’t qualify for an available deal, the OnMyWay Cash is stuck in the app.

There’s just one problem: Most of the deals are “sold out.” And they can be for days or weeks at a time.

Image: OnMyWay

As of Thursday, there were seven deals available to users. Four of them, ranging from $10 to $100, were listed as “sold out,” meaning even if users qualified for them, they couldn’t cash out. An available $250 deal requires drivers to not only earn $250 worth of OnMyWay Cash—which would take around 5,000 miles of driving—but also 250 referrals. A $500 reward only asks for 50 referrals, but it requires drivers to earn $5,000 in OnMyWay Cash — a feat that would require driving for over 100,000 miles.

The final reward is the only one currently available that doesn’t require referrals. For a $1,000 reward, drivers have to earn $10,000 of OnMyWay Cash. At five cents per mile, this would take over 200,000 miles of nondistracted driving. For reference, Consumer Reports says that the average life expectancy of a new car is around 150,000 miles. Since the average American drives a little under 30 miles per day, earning $10,000 of OnMyWay Cash would take over 18 years.

“We’ve heard, ‘This a pyramid scheme, this is a scam,’” says Palmer. “We’re trying to clarify that this is not a pyramid scheme. This is not a scam.” Unlike traditional pyramid schemes, users do not pay into the system to support those who invited them, and there’s no stacking effect. That means users are rewarded for the recruits they invite, but not for the recruits those users invite. The benefit stops at one level of rewards.

Palmer says the company will reinstate lower-tier deals in the coming weeks. “As we grow, they will be added more and more quickly,” says Palmer. “So the next ones will come about two weeks after these current ones became sold out.” But there’s no guarantee how long those deals will remain available when they go live. As for the current batch, “they became sold out within hours.”

Prior to selling out, the app says that its various lower-tier deals went out to around 375 people.

OnMyWay’s goal of reducing distracted driving is a noble one, and if it can generate enough advertiser interest to pay out the rewards it’s promised, it could be a win-win for everyone. But that’s a big “if.”

In the meantime, it’s worth remembering that you can (and should) put down the phone and drive safely, even if you don’t get paid for it.

Update: An earlier version of this article included a userbase number for OnMyWay that actually corresponds to total app downloads.

Eric Ravenscraft is a freelance writer from Atlanta covering tech, media, and geek culture for Medium, The New York Times, and more.

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