Will leaky data affect market research?

Will leaky data affect market research?

There has been a lot of coverage and debate recently regarding the issue of social media and privacy.

Recently the Wall Street Journal ran a piece on Facebook regarding the issue that some of the apps on its site have been sharing user identifying information with third-party companies.  (relevant article)

Also the Guardian reported that data collected by Google's Street View cars included some users’ emails and passwords. (relevant article)

These news stories have followed similar coverage regarding Android and iPhone app data leaks.

Whilst these unconnected events may not constitute a trend, the media spotlight now seems to be firmly focused on the issue of data privacy and social media, and I’m sure there will be more disclosures to follow. It’s a bit early to suggest that a social media backlash has begun, but this will be an ongoing issue over the next few months and one which raises some interesting questions for market research in this sector.

The main issue is trust (or lack thereof) and its knock-on effects. Will the explosive growth in the use of social media be stunted by these revelations and as a result will consumers lose trust in the medium?

Logic would suggest that the unprecedented growth in social media will start to slow down in any case, but it would be an interesting research project to find out what consumers really think about privacy, how it is likely to affect their behaviour and how that will play out across different demographics.

Another knock-on effect is that if customers perceive that large social media organisations cannot look after their personal data, can they trust market research agencies to do so – and will this have an effect on response rates for online surveys over the coming months?

However there are key differences in the way market research uses data and we can all play a role in helping consumers to understand this. When conducting market research surveys, responses are anonymised and they are also aggregated, not personal.

Secondly data leaks are hardly a new phenomenon and certainly not restricted to social media organisations. A couple of years ago, the previous British government endured a difficult time in the media, with reports on a series of data leaks across many public departments with data lost, stolen and in some cases sold on to the commercial sector.

The government departments in question tightened security procedures and dealt with the issue – with what would appear to be no long lasting negative effects to either themselves or market research in general. I feel confident that social media organisations can do the same.

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