MRS still in consultation…

MRSWe would like to convey DigitalMR’s perspective on harvesting posts from the web for the purpose of sentiment analysis and reporting.

We disagree with the points in the MRS paper (especially in pages 7 and 8) about having to ask permission, from individuals, before using data harvested from the public domain.

Our opinion on the parallel used in the paper of looking into a private garden or through a window is not appropriate for this case. A garden can indeed be private; a public twitter account or a facebook  fan-page is not. It is clear to the user, and if it isn’t it should be, that anybody has the right to read their comments and re-tweet (giving credit to the author) their tweets. As a matter of fact the writer in the majority of the cases, if not all, wants people to read their comments. As market researchers we can read “re-tweet” also as “re-publish” for  a market research report as long as we identify the author. If we masked the harvested data, so that the author is not identifiable, one might claim that we have plagiarised. Also there are lots of holes in the argument that copying without the permission of the author is a breach of the copyright law” for example, a post is not artistic work (which is usually subject to copyright law). A post is like saying something to many people on the street, or a post on a public website is in the public domain.

Our parallel to those who argue that the people who post comments may not be aware of the copyright laws or other rules is :  the law does not care if an offender knew the law or not they are still guilty. To make our point clearer, if someone who posts a comment on the web does not know that the comment is in the public domain (when it is), and that anyone can read it, and anyone is in a position to repeat it, then it is their problem. MRS mention in their paper that the rules that apply in the real world should apply in the virtual world, so here is an example for the authors of the paper: say a man stands on a rock in the middle of a square and starts talking to people who pass by:

  • Are the people who walk by allowed to repeat what the speaker said in a research paper (not only the reference should not be anonymous but one has to provide credit)?
  • Does the speaker know that people who pass by can hear him?
  • Does he want other people to repeat what he says?
  • Does he wish that his speech will have an impact?

Our answer to all the above questions is a resounding YES!

We find the position of ESOMAR and possibly that of MRS on masking and cloaking the identity of people who post comments on the web absolutely impractical and wrong. We hope that the MRS will be a little more with the times and in a position to understand the huge difference between respondents and authors of unsolicited comments and opinions on the web. In the MRS guideline the word ‘respondent’ is sometimes wrongly used to describe a person who posts a comment. The code of conduct should be updated to reflect these important differences.

We will be happy to expand on the subject and participate in a debate.

About The Author

Michalis Michael

Michalis Michael

Michalis founded DigitalMR in 2010 following a corporate career in market research with Synovate and MEMRB since 1991. He speaks at conferences regularly about social media research and marketing. He has published multiple white papers on market research.