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Peter Mouncey Blog

Privacy concerns undermine research's USP 

This year, the MRS Market Research Standards Board (MRSB) - of which I am a member - has spent much time discussing updates to the MRS Code of Conduct, going through each clause to see if they need updating, deleting or replacing. 

We’ve also discussed in depth the changes that have taken place in the research landscape since the last update (2005). The suggested revisions will soon be going out to members for consultation. 

Privacy issues have consumed a lot of our time during these discussions. These form the foundations of the MRS Code going back to its inception over half a century ago. 

This is against a backdrop of looming changes in EU legislation in this field and the very successful launch earlier this year of the MRS Fair Data initiative. 

We believe that the current EU Directive, and whatever shape the update will take, governs the protection of privacy for those partaking in market research. Adequate safeguards must be in place if data collected in the EU is transferred to other domains. 

However, Google apparently thinks otherwise. 

According to a recent article in the Sunday Times ‘Google: we are beyond British law’ Google’s lawyers argue that any information gleaned from the search engine is not ‘private or confidential’. They argue that they are not subject to EU legislation in this field as they are based in the USA. 

Much of the debate in the media focuses on the lack of confidentiality for users of Google’s search engines, G Mail service etc. 

I’ve already commented in a previous blog on how Google surveys can positively benefit companies who have not traditionally used market research to engage with their customers. However, can it be assumed that there is therefore no protection for personal data collected through Google ‘survey walls’?

Also, if international giants, such as Google, take this stance, what are the implications for market research in general? 

What is the future for ‘informed consent’ and will citizens no longer trust the promise of confidentiality that still underpins the MRS Code?

Perhaps they don’t really care any more. Will others in the field of market research take a similar stance, especially those domiciled outside of Europe, in order to compete with the likes of Google?

We believe that informed consent, and the promise of anonymity, not only keeps the market research sector within the law, it provides a unique selling proposition when collecting personal data from citizens and consumers. This promise generates a high degree of trust in what we do, and demonstrates the commitment to confidentiality. 

Sometime in the future we’ll know if Google’s argument is upheld, or refuted. Maybe privacy itself is becoming an anachronism. 

But the issue for me is keeping the promise we make to participants in research and never undermining this through subsequent actions.

As ever, please let me know your thoughts by posting your comments below.

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