Why do online panels need professional guidelines?

Article 1

Last week I’ve attended to the ESOMAR 3D-congress where the new guidelines for conducting mobile research were presented. There was an exciting discussion on the sense and purpose of those guidelines: who is responsible for the protection of the privacy and identity of the participants? Three candidates are in the race.

1. Legislation: Are the laws for data protection sufficient? Too good to be true! At first the legislation is much slower than the technical progress – that means there are always grey areas and legislative gaps. Second there is no global legislation – in so far the initiatives of some countries are ineffective with regard to the world-wide-web. Third the legislator does not know anything about market research (– of course, you cannot blame him for this – that’s what we are for!) and therefore the legislator does not make laws that fit perfectly to the market research branch.

2. The respondents themselves: Does checking the box for terms and conditions, for the data protection guideline and participation conditions transform the participant into a responsible data protectionist? Probably not! Such check boxes are not supposed to protect the survey participant but the researcher from unpleasant consequences. The only protection for participants is absolute transparency on what happens with their data – and exactly this is not possible in practice. Only few people will understand what happens to their data and even if they understand it this does not necessarily mean that they care about this. But more about this later on.

3. The market research branch itself. Voluntary self-commitment for responsible market research is the magic word – and this without ifs and buts, because if we don´t care for it, nobody will!

Probably I would never written about it if I hadn’t come across this page which encouraged me to write about this topic. On this page people exchange information about different online panels e.g. where can you earn as much money as possible / as fast as possible. Various panels are recommended on this site – big and small, excellent and average ones (normally we are not mentioned on such pages because we don´t have a public registration page for quality reasons – buzzword: self-selection. Ergo recommendations do not help!).

What really made me thinking was the following tip (originally in German):

What I personally prefer is ClixSense. This is an English page, but you can earn money there. I get money there at least twice a week – a payment of at least 6 $ per paypal. You can earn money there with German surveys, an easy task or by advertising clicks.

Here you go with the evidence for the need of the protection of survey participants. Clixsense is a classical PTC-provider, e.g. members of the portal are paid for looking and clicking on advertising. Interesting is that the author of the comment above is not able to distinguish between market research and advertising – for him the relevant difference is  language and the possibility to earn money. Apparently he never learned the difference between market research and marketing.

An individual case? Maybe! However this enforces my opinion that as a panel it is important to be different from the huge amount of “money-earning” pages. That money should not be the main motivation to register in a panel. That we have to promote pro-actively for transparency among our panelists – and of course that we are responsible for data and identity protection. Last but not least especially we as panel provider have to feel responsible for the image of the market research industry because we deal with long-term relations with our survey participants.

I am finally convinced of all these aspects because this leads to a crucial difference in the data quality: no clicking for money but to express one´s opinion. And for this reason we need professional guidelines. They mark a frontier which should be noticeable for all survey participants – not on the paper but in action!