Lateline presenter Emma Alberici plucked her out of the AMSRS conference crowd and put her on the spot when privacy issues came to the forefront of debate and she tweeted the following:



Here Victoria Gamble expands on ‘that tweet’.


I’m not a rule breaker. If there’s a rule, I like to follow it. If the person next to me on a plane doesn’t turn their phone off, I’m likely to report them to the flight attendant, even though I KNOW it doesn’t ACTUALLY mean the plane will crash. I’m that kind of person (and I’ll understand if you don’t want to sit next to me on a plane in the future).

So, having been asked to write an article about my concerns regarding privacy in market research, my rule-following self is freaking out! And you can’t blame me.

I think the Privacy Act, and specifically The Market and Social Research Privacy Principles (M&SRPPs) are extraordinarily important to our industry. These rules and regulations are a gigantic pain, but they protect us and make it possible for us to do what we do.

HOWEVER, (you knew it was coming)……there’s no denying that the world has changed significantly in the ten years since the M&SRPPs were agreed upon. It leads me to ask, do our participants still always have an expectation of privacy when they participate in market research?

This article is born out of a twitter debate during the Future Panel at the 2012 AMSRS conference. Representing AMSRS on the panel, Jayne Van Souwe stated that the guarantee of participant anonymity is central to our industry, and is what makes us different from other industries that may collect customer data.

This statement worried me on a couple of levels. Firstly, I worry that it is limiting to us, and what we can provide. I also worry that it makes us hard to deal with as an industry.

There will always be studies where anonymity and de-identified data will be of paramount importance: social research studies, health and patient studies, employee satisfaction and studies to understand illegal behaviour to name a few. But is it always necessary? Is it always expected? By identifying ourselves as the industry that only deals with anonymous and de-identified data, are we doing ourselves a disservice? Are we limiting the work we can do? Are we limiting the demand for our work? Are all clients still happy with anonymous insights – or will they prefer to work with competitors who can provide them with more ‘useable’, targeted data?

One example where client demands could be at odds with the guarantee of anonymity is video outputs. There is certainly a growing appetite amongst clients for video outputs to help bring stories to life; whether this is from focus groups or from more formal video interviewing. Does this breach our code of conduct? Is it still ‘market research’? Even with appropriate sign-off, it is certainly not anonymous.

And I come back to the question: do participants still want / need/ desire anonymity? In my experience, the desire for anonymity is lessening, particularly amongst younger age groups. The release of personal information these days is becoming more and more transactional. ‘If I tell you these details about myself, you’ll provide me with a better service, a more tailored product or experience’.

When I do my shopping at the local supermarket with my loyalty card, I tell that company masses of information about my private tastes and routines. And now they send me clearly targeted offers based on that behaviour. Google knows more about me than my own mother, and targets advertising and tailors my search results based on past behaviour – and this makes my experience better.

I also worry that building our industry’s value proposition around the guarantee of participant anonymity will increasingly make our industry hard to work with.

Let’s face it, we’re already known to be sticklers when it comes to rigorous methods and process around data collection (and I am certainly not saying that’s a bad thing). But in a world where data is increasingly available, and identified – insisting on removing this information when it is voluntarily given by participants can be seen as pedantic.

In a time where consumers long to know that companies are hearing them, where they provide feedback through visible and public means (like social media), and see their relationship with brands as a two-way conversation, rather than the traditional parent–child communication, is our promise to de-identify still relevant?

I was hesitant to write this article, because I certainly don’t have the answers. These are big issues, and they involve looking into our industry’s basic codes of behaviour and the laws that govern this behaviour and judging whether they are still relevant and practical for the business we are doing.

This is a long and involved process. But I think it is important that we as an industry acknowledge that times have changed, and are changing. I think we need to challenge whether the basic assumptions made about participants’ needs and conditions for participating in research are still relevant and true. We need to adapt our guidelines and procedures appropriately. We need to be seen as changing and evolving as an industry, or there is a real risk that we will be left behind.


This article originally appeared in AMSRS’ Research News

2 thoughts on “Privacy: Extinction or Evolution

  1. I was surprised to learn that you all do eliminate such information and are limited so extremely by privacy laws in this day and age. A great article Victoria!

Comments are closed.

Additional comments powered byBackType