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    Nobody pays me to write any of the copy on my blog, and should I ever have the good fortune that they do, I will declare it. My main employment is as the owner and principal of The Future Place consultancy. The Future Place provides two key services 1) training and services to industry and academic bodies and 2) consultancy services to companies. The details of the companies I work with are a private matter, but if I blog about any company who has paid The Future Place more than expenses recently (approx. two years) I will mention that they are a client. I hold equity in Virtual Surveys and provide consulting services to them from time to time. I am paid to run courses for a number of trade bodies and over the last few years clients have included ESOMAR, AMSRS, MRS, and MRIA.

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Adurkee

Thanks for posting this. It prompted me to finish reading the new ESOMAR standards and brought my attention to the MRS brief. :)

I tend to agree with you and others here about our industry needing to be adaptable or else become irrelevant. Most of us trained in "traditional research methods" tend to be conservative in adopting new methodologies. If anything, we need a nudge in the direction of branching out and trying new tools, even if they might be controversial.

However, I can see why our standards organizations would take a conservative approach in order to establish some boundaries on appropriate research methodology in the age of social media research. For example, my idea of "outrageous behavior" might be much different than yours...it's just good to have a "policy" to reference when making a gray-area decision.

In the end, I'm confident that this kind of public debate--made possible by the social media tools we're now using for research--will lead to adaptable, reasonable guidelines.

Annie

Here's hoping that my post on this topic is completely irrelevant.

Eulogy for a Beloved Market Research Organization http://goo.gl/fb/e8Y74

Lennyism

I agree with Ray’s points. Moreover I believe that any efforts by legislative bodies to regulate such a rapidly evolving issue will fail and that if MR adopts strategies such as what the MRS has proposed that we’ll be sealing our own fate and might as well close shop now; MR simply will NOT be relevant or competitive in the 21st Century.

I think there are three core questions to address in this debate:

1. What constitutes privacy in the modern age of big data and what ethical obligations do companies have in how we collect and use that data?

2. Is the utilization of these open sources of data even market research by the classical definition? If not, then do the guidelines being established by industry trade orgs even have any relevance?

3. As firms that do not identify themselves as “market research” but clearly are competitive to traditional MR increasingly gain market share, is it business suicide to align with a perhaps outdated definition and code of standards?

So to my mind those are the issues involved with this topic, and they are relevant indeed. In fact, I think they very well may define the future of our industry more than anything else that is impacting us today.

Because we think this issue is so critical and it needs more discussion NewMR & GreenBook, with the support of MRGA & NGMR, have decided to hold a public forum debate on the topic of data privacy so that the whole industry can get involved in this important discussion. Here are the details:

When: Monday, August 22 at 12:00 EST

Where: Hosted on the MRGA 365 Virtual Event Platform: http://www.marketplace365.com/registration/mrga365/

(This is a passport registration for all MRGA 365 events so it’s a bit longer than average webinar registrations. After you register you’ll receive an email reminder for the event.)

Panelists: A TBD Representative of the MRS, Adam Phillips of ESOMAR, Peter Milla of CASRO, Ray Poynter, Tom H.C. Anderson, & Michalis Michael. Moderated by Andrew Jeavons and hosted by yours truly.

Presented in cooperation with NewMR, GreenBook, MRGA, and NGMR.

This will be a one-hour informal debate, with the last 15 minutes reserved for audience participation via Twitter (hashtag #MRDP) and questions asked on the event platform.

Jbellerose

Thanks, Ray. This is such an important debate to have. I’m not sure that I see a need for a split between the ethics of social research and the ethics of (the new) market research. The four principles you list here apply to both, in my opinion. Much of the difficulty we – marketing researchers – face in applying our standards or rules of conduct to any new reality is that we fail to extract the overarching ethical principles behind them. I don’t agree that anonymity is a traditional market research ethical principle. There’s nothing inherently ethical about anonymity, but there is something ethical about honestly representing how the information people are volunteering is going to be used. This honesty principle (or transparency) applies as much to personal information that may allow to identify the individual as it does to volunteered opinions and observed behaviours. In many cases too, hiding the identity of the participants to end-clients will increase respondent’s candidness, although not always.

I don’t have much difficulty with the questions MRS suggests a researcher should pose when asked to collect information about individuals who have profiles on a social media service (page 8). I agree too that virtual life is real life. However, it is real ‘public’ life rather than real ‘private’ life. When people express their views in an open forum online, they usually don’t have a problem being candid. When they are expressing their views about a product or service, they likely know, even expect, that the product/service provider is paying attention. Consequently, the requirement to obtain ‘informed consent of all persons from or about whom data is collected’ seems rather over the top not to mention unrealistic.

Grant you, there are degrees of ‘publicness’ even in social media which must be respected by those having access to the data/information. If I’m writing something to friends in a secret or closed group on Facebook, I expect it to remain within that group and not to be used to sell me something, no matter how ‘better-tailored-to-my-inner-self’ this something might be. What I think researchers owe to the people participating in any given online forum is to make sure they know that the information may be used for research purposes. Is this really so limiting?

The research we do involves people, real people, and that’s a responsibility we should not take lightly. The main ethical research principle I learned at university was: Don’t do to participants what you would not want someone to do to your grand-mother (replace with child, baby sister or brother, any person you feel is vulnerable and to whom you wish no harm). If it makes me OldMR to abide by it, so be it. At least I can live with myself.

SawchukMR

Severe is an understatement Annie.

I personally feel that this paper, published by the MRS, is a desperate attempt to stifle an emerging methodology that they don’t fully understand. I am not surprised though because there was a similar resistance to online surveys, online panels and online qual. This is just the most recent example of how an “organization” is getting in the way of innovation.

Market research must change and adapt to meet the needs of today’s consumers, otherwise it will become irrelevant. Thankfully our industry is full of creative and entrepreneurial minds that have the foresight to leapfrog reports like these and push the industry forward.

RegBaker

I'm not sure it's the ethics of our profession that hold us back. We self regulate on things for the very selfish reason that it allows us to stay clear of legal restrictions that can make research harder. So, for example, if we only do research and stay clear of anything that looks like marketing what we do is not classified as "commercial speech" and we therefore have fewer restrictions on how we contact people to do research. Ditto on issues of privacy where we may be able to collect information our clients can't without jumping through all sorts of hoops precisely because we don't use that information to go after research participants with marketing pitches. So we need to be very careful before throwing these ethical frameworks overboard in the name of making us more competitive.

More importantly, I don't believe that our ability to compete is hampered by old-fashioned notions about research ethics. For example, our difficulty in competing with BI providers in a world of what you like to call "Big Data" is more about skills, technology and scale than it is about ethical practices. Worse yet, the insight mania that has gripped MR over the last decade has had the effect of de-emphasizing the very hard data skills that are increasingly required.

Annie

The MRS stance is quite severe and has serious implications for the MR community and MR industry as a whole. I do hope that people take a look at it and decide for themselves whether it is a plan that works for them. I am completely on board with ethical research practices as are all industry organizations. We just need to make sure we don't jeopardize ourselves.

http://www.mrs.org.uk/standards/downloads/2011-07-19_Online_data_collection_and_privacy.pdf

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