Don’t gatecrash my community

Another type of privacy breach reported recently by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), was the web-scraping of information from behind the password protected area of a site called PatientsLikeMe, click here

This is a different type of data leak to the one discussed in the previous blog post – personal account information was not in danger of being lost or stolen, rather it was an issue of privacy regarding comments being made on a password protected site. For suppliers of social media monitoring data it raises some very interesting issues about privacy and ethics when conducting this type of research. And for buyers it highlights some of the questions you need to ask of your supplier.

Is anything on the web “fair game” or do we need to establish some rules of engagement? Certainly at DigitalMR we draw the line at password protected areas on websites. If information is open access we can monitor it, but if it’s in a “walled” area then we respect privacy. We think this distinction is quite clear and straightforward to implement.

For example when we harvest data for our web listening reports we only do so from public websites. We never harvest from behind firewalls or password protected web pages unless if we receive explicit permission from the data owners.

However the main issue of the WSJ article is that comments were “scraped” from a password protected area. Which leads to the question, should clients encourage their suppliers to “delve deeper” into protected web discussions if open access data is hard to come by? Some suppliers view this as a grey area – however we think it’s quite clear.

Firstly if a web monitoring company cannot gather enough information from public sites, then perhaps questions need to be asked about the efficacy of the system they deploy.

For the most part there should not be any need to go further if you have a decent monitoring system in place. In the rare instances where you might need to reach deeper: for example to monitor discussions within very niche markets or sensitive issues, then you should ask your supplier to follow and apply industry guidelines.

When conducting research in a “restricted group”, firstly seek the permission of the moderator, or the members of that group. Secondly the research and its objectives should be made clear. That way an invasion of privacy can be avoided – we do not need legislation to know what is right and what is wrong in this respect.

Alternatively, rather than trying to gatecrash someone else’s community why not create your own. From online chat and focus groups to creating your own online community web-based research applications can really help you to extract insight from those “hard to reach” sectors.

For example online communities are a great way to engage your customers. They encourage interaction between your customers and enable you to have structured discussions within different customer groups, with instant feedback. Over time they can be developed into a real asset for your organisation. So don’t be tempted to gatecrash someone else community – it’s more ethical and cost effective in the long run to build your own.

As long as market research agencies apply common sense our industry can continue innovating in getting the voice of the customer to our clients.




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