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Have You Forgotten about Survey Privacy? #MRX

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People share a lot of information when they answer surveys. They tell us the brand names of products they’re using, they tell us how often they use them, and who in their household uses them. Some people are even willing to share their most personal medical information including what diseases and ailments they have, how severe those ailments are, as well as some of the most embarrassing components of those ailments such as how often they experience heart burn, constipation, or diarrhea.

But sometimes, surveys go even further than this. Sometimes financial institutions want to know a client’s complete financial background. Which institutions do they use, for which products, and for how much money. In order to get the most accurate information, it makes perfect sense for the client, via the research company, to access a person’s online financial account directly. And of course, as long as the person has given the research company approval in the form of usernames and passwords, this is ok.

But is it? To begin with, this type of research probably violates the terms and service agreement of the financial institution which likely says that account information must not be shared. What would the financial institution think if they found out their research provider was encouraging survey takers to ignore the legally binding rules they agreed to when they signed up for the account? It’s a tricky situation for sure.

Beyond the legal issues though, does this level of detail go above and beyond the boundaries of research? Sure, precise detail such as what can be obtained via direct account access is highly desirable. We can do far better work when are incoming data is absolutely accurate. But it seems to me that we are taking precision a little too far, a little too close to personal intrusion, a little too close to putting people in vulnerable positions. I’m positive that’s not the job of market researchers.

But maybe I’m just oversensitive.

Dilbert.com

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Mugging, Sugging and now Rugging: I take a hard stance on privacy

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At the Esomar conference in Chicago last year, a speaker commented on how one could send out surveys and then follow up with targeted sales calls. Someone politely corrected him a few minutes later because “sugging,” selling under the guise of research, is not an ethical practice. Clearly, the MR rules are not well known outside our immediate industry.

The exploding popularity of social media has opened the door for many new companies in the field of SM monitoring. Their bread and butter is finding out who is saying what about your brand so that you may counteract any negative happenings. Since every online post is linked to a person, often even the real name of a person, it is very easy for those companies to directly communicate with those people.

In market research, privacy and anonymity are our Prime Directives. We do not reveal names. We do not interfere with people. We do not try to change their opinions. We DO listen, learn, and try to solve business problems on a group level.

Are we about to encounter a new type of “ugging” then? “Rugging” refers to replying under the guise of research. This means that in the course of carrying out social media research, someone takes the step of replying to someone whose data just happens to appears in the research data set. The person didn’t asked to participate and they didn’t respond to a question.

For me, this is in direct violation of the Prime Directive. Sure, the internet is open. Sure, the links and names are readily available to everyone. But that doesn’t make it right. People need to be able to express their honest opinions without worrying that some big company is going to try to change their opinions. People need to retain their right to choose when they want to interact with a company. People need to maintain ownership of who they communicate with.

The internet is not an equal playing field. There are billion dollar companies with thousands of IT professionals, lawyers, and SME. Then there are little old ladies who just typed out their first youtube comment. Do not even try to convince me that “she ought to know” or “well that’s just too bad.”

Not everyone knows the rules of the game. That is not their fault. In the research world, we have taken an oath of sorts to protect the people who share their opinions. Whether they provide survey data or SM data, we owe it to them.

I hope you feel that way too.

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