What is Market Research and What isn't? What is Ethical and What isn't?

These are some really big questions, probably too big to handle in one blog post. We have to start somewhere though; this is too important to let it pass without discussions that should ideally involve as many market research practitioners as possible – both on the agency and the client side. The real trigger to write this blog post, however, is the 7th R&D grant DigitalMR has won, this time as part of a consortium of 7 entities: two from Portugal, two from Spain, two from the UK (DigitalMR and City University) and one from Germany. The project is called DiSIEM (Diversity enhancements for Security Information and Event Management) and it is funded by the Horizon 2020 framework of the European Union. This is a trigger because a whole work package has to be delivered at the front of the project about ethics; a very important element of humanity. The handling of these questions should permeate all industries and market research is not an exception.

With social listening & analytics now in the picture, along with behaviour tracking, the lines of where market research stops and marketing starts are getting a bit blurry for me. I hope it is just me. If you have a clear view, then please share it with the global insights community because some other people and organisations seem to be confused too.

It looks like the market research associations are trying their best to get ahead of this new world with all the new disciplines and its blurry lines. ESOMAR seems to be getting its cue from the EU and sometimes it tries to influence its legislation. I am not sure how successful they are.

Here is an excerpt from the ESOMAR guideline for social media research:

“Researchers must not allow personal data they collect in a market research project to be used for any other purpose than market, social and opinion research. If it is intended to collect personalised social media data for other purposes, they must clearly differentiate this activity from their research activities and not misrepresent it as research.”

This is not very different from what is in the code of conduct for market research, so no surprises here. My interpretation is that a company in this space IS ALLOWED to collect personalised social media data for purposes other than research - as long as they clearly differentiate it from market research and not misrepresent it as such.

Now that the rules around collecting data are clear we can concentrate on reporting personally identifiable data. Here is another excerpt from the ESOMAR Guideline:

“Social media platforms offer many opportunities to view personally identifiable data. Some people post information that overtly discloses their identity, are aware of this and have a diminished expectation of privacy. Others are not aware that the services they are using are open for others to collect data from or think that they have disguised their identity by using a pseudonym or username. However, online services are now available that make it possible in many cases to identify a “poster” from their username or comments and can link that to many other aspects of personally identifiable data including their address, phone number, likely income and socio demographic data.”

Well I am not sure it is a market research practitioner’s problem if someone is not aware that she/he is posting on a public website even though it is common knowledge (e.g. on Twitter) and openly explained on the relevant websites and their Terms of Use (ToU).  

…and I am sure I totally disagree with the next excerpt:

“Given this, data cannot always be 100% anonymised on the internet by merely removing the username and linked URL from the comment. Therefore if researchers wish to quote publicly made comments in reports or to pass these on to people not bound by the ICC/ESOMAR Code (or a contract linked to this), they must first check if the user’s identity can be easily discoverable using online search services. If it can, they must make reasonable efforts to either seek permission from the user to quote them or mask the comment to such an extent that the identity of the user cannot be obtained.”

I am not quite sure why the market research associations feel this way. I assume it is because they want to extend the survey thinking into anything else that is market research nowadays. However there is a big difference between surveys and social listening. In the survey world market research agencies actually collect the personal information thus they are responsible to safeguard it based on the codes of conduct and the law. In social media research, agencies have nothing to do with putting the personal information in the public domain, so why should they be responsible to mask it or anonymise the posts?

I asked this question many times before but I have not received a satisfactory answer yet: What about the copyright laws? Doesn’t every author of any published content have the right and expectation to be quoted when the content is quoted?

Of course in the guidelines we also found this sentence:

“If consent has not been obtained (directly or under the ToU) researchers must ensure that they report only depersonalised data from social media sources.”

This effectively allows a market research agency to report personalised data from e.g. Twitter if Twitter’s ToU state that by publishing on their medium users should expect to be quoted with whatever personal information they have shared. Hmmm confusing….which one is it: de-personalise or give credit?

Tweet to @DigitalMR_CEO if you have an opinion!




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