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Personal Data Usage Is A Matter of Trust

A new report from the Global Research Business Network on attitudes to personal and sensitive data has profound implications for the market research industry.


By Jeff Resnick

Not only is beauty in the eye of the beholder, so too it seems is the perception of what is seen as sensitive personal data by consumers and what is not.  A recent study by GRBN (Global Research Business Network – www.grbn.org) was presented at IIeX in Amsterdam and has profound implications for the market research industry.   The study consisted of over 2000 interviews conducted in early February across the United States and the United Kingdom.  The purpose of the study was to identify issues, from the consumers’ perspective, that relate to an increasingly dicey world of data privacy.   You can download the report here.

Recent revelations such as the capabilities of the NSA or data security breaches of enormous magnitude (think Target) can make even the most complacent consumer jittery about personal information floating around cyberspace.   So what did the GRBN survey find?

Let’s begin with the basic question of what people consider sensitive personal data – the stuff they wouldn’t want companies or organizations to have access to without the full confidence that information will be safe.     Not surprisingly, across both countries almost eight-in-ten (78%) consider their social security number or national insurance number to be sensitive information, almost three-fourths  (74%) consider health records sensitive and one-third consider their sexual orientation to be sensitive personal data.  However, almost half (46%) consider data about their location via mobile phone signals sensitive, three in ten (28%) consider a picture of themselves or their name to be sensitive personal data, and 15% consider posts others make about them on social media sites to be sensitive.   Why is this important?



In a world of technology with ever increasing capabilities to gather information – knowingly or otherwise – from individuals, firms that are harvesting this data have an ethical obligation to inform individuals about what they are doing through opt-in procedures or clearly written privacy policies so that sharing of the information is a personal choice and not the by-product of an action taken or service used by the individual.      It is the basis of trust.  For our industry, there can be nothing more damaging than those who we depend on becoming unwilling to provide us with information or answer our questions because they don’t trust us to appropriately use their personal information.   In fact, based on this survey, our industry falls well short on this measure with more than four-in-ten (41%) respondents across the US and the UK saying they do not trust market research companies to protect and appropriately use their personal data.  We are not alone in this trust chasm.  Social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter fare far worse with over half (53%) providing this response and almost four-in-ten (38%) saying the same about internet search engines such as Google and Bing.  These entities also face negative consequences for their business if trust is lost by their users. grbntrust


So where does this leave us?  We must do better.  We can’t stick our heads in the sand and hope the problem goes away – it won’t.    For our industry, anything short of full success in this area is a failure.  It is the responsibility of companies that depend on streams of information about individuals – whether actively or passively collected – to behave ethically and to embrace the laws and guidelines of the regulatory environment in which they operate as well as the codes of conduct and guidelines issued by their national associations or regional federations that guide our industry.  Self-policing is the best strategy for success and building the public trust.

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