Preserving Privacy in the Age of Geo-location

By the Editors

With enhanced GPS tracking capabilities available in today’s mobile devices, it is easier than ever to for retailers and market researchers to track where consumers are shopping. Customers around the world receive survey notifications, promotions, and have their in-store data tracked and recorded on a daily basis. However, as customer sensitivity about privacy rises—and regulatory oversight—doubles down, it is important for researchers to have a plan in place for protecting privacy when geo-location features may be used in research. Here are some factors to consider when thinking about the different elements of protecting participant and panel member privacy in the age of mobile devices.

Do Participants Really Understand What Researchers are Tracking?

For every researcher, despite all the formal disclosures and policies consumers can access with a click, it is critical to ask one question in particular: do participants really understand what data they are sharing and researchers are tracking?

In a recent SSI webinar, general counsel Ashlin Quirk raised some critical points for organizations to explore. Often, privacy disclosures are made—but are they prominent enough? And are they worded in such a way that the average consumer is going to understand what information is being collected, how it is going to be used, and who will see that data? If the answer is no, it is time to revisit the privacy policy and ensure consumers understand:

  • What information researchers are collecting, specifically, from their device. What information are they being asked to submit (such as answers to a survey), and what data may be collected passively? Could sensitive information, such as their internet searches, be part of this?
  • How will the information be used and analyzed?
  • Who could see this data? The market research team? Data carriers? End clients? Partners or vendors?

Beware of Capturing Sensitive Data and How That Impacts Disclosures

In many cases, passive data collection captures a wide net of information. Researchers are likely to want to leverage technology to gather as many data points as possible. However, it is important to remember that with potentially sensitive data collection, clear and prominent disclosures are even more critical. Some elements to consider include:

  • Mapping all the data the research is likely to collect, particularly if additional information like searches could be exposed in the process of posting information.
  • Ensuring there is a clear business case for the data being collected, and that the research design meets the criteria of “less is more”—gathering enough information to answer business questions without pushing boundaries.
  • Developing disclosures which are prominently displayed on the company’s website, as well as being included in the pre-research interviews with participants.
  • Ensuring privacy policies encompass geo-location and other forms of passive data collection.
  • Gaining participant consent, and ensuring each participant reviews the policy agreement and agrees to the terms.

Complying with Regulations

Regulations regarding privacy and mobile devices have been released in the U.S., Europe, and Asia Pacific regions. Others may have country-level regulations, and this is an area which is evolving quickly.  It is important for companies to have someone on point who tracks this information, whether it relates to changing regulations, geographic factors, or adopting new technologies that change the parameters of the company’s research. Market research companies should periodically review the regulations and technologies—and update their disclosures, privacy policies, and other communications to reflect the changing environment.

Ultimately, if market research initiatives or technology leverage geo-location factors, it’s important to get customized legal counsel from a resource who understands the intricacies of privacy law. From data management practices to the way disclosures are worded to how data is shared with customers, consumer privacy must be front and center in today’s market research business practices.

By committing to developing a compliance strategy and reviewing technology platforms, research designs, and privacy disclosures, market researchers will be well on their way to establishing the reliability and transparency which both consumers and regulators demand.

Looking to learn more about the most important privacy and legal issues market researchers need to consider in 2017? Sign up to watch our webinar today!