How to Ensure Your Respondents’ Privacy

Hello Everyone! In this article we will be discussing how privacy effects online survey research. This is a specific issue that many survey researchers should be wary of. Providing personal information for a survey, while important for many studies, is seen by many people as a way for organizations to compromise the privacy of the public. As a response to people’s need for privacy and researcher’s need for the general public’s information, countries have created different legislatures to define rules on how data can be collected and used. We decided it would be useful to provide some tips that will help ensure the privacy of your respondents and the legality of your research.

5 Privacy Rules of Thumb

1) No obligation to provide information: The first and most important rule is that no person is obligated to provide information to an organization in regards to their personal information. This means that surveys cannot have any mandatory personal question or pressure people into revealing sensitive data that they or someone they know may live with.
However, any person can choose to provide their information if they so choose. That is why it is important that your respondents realize their answers are optional and would be greatly appreciated. Providing the reason for the study in your introduction will also make your respondents less suspicious and more willing to give honest answers.
2) Personal information cannot be provided to other organizations: After collecting the data of your study, your respondents have entrusted you with information that is personal and private to them. It is now your organization’s responsibility to not allow other companies or organizations to have access to the data. If you are collecting the information on behalf of another company, be sure to let your respondents know who their data will be provided to.
3) Information can only be used for its collected purpose: Your respondents may have agreed to complete your survey, but this does not mean that the information given is at your disposal. Instead, a researcher must make certain that the collected data is used for its original purpose. This ensures that respondents are not taken advantage of or misled by an organization that sees further use in the information researched.
4) Allow respondents to have access to their responses: Whenever dealing with sensitive or personal information, it is important to allow respondents to come back to their answers and alter them after they completed the survey. This is easily achieved since FluidSurveys automatically saves all surveys partially or fully completed and allows respondents to change their answers through the unique link to the survey provided in their invitation.
5) Information cannot be altered by the researcher: Altering answers in anyway breaks the agreement between the researcher and the respondent. A person’s health information cannot be tampered with in any survey, so researchers should tread lightly when manipulating data results for their reports. Stay vigilant when grouping answers into categories that you are not misrepresenting some of your sample.

Privacy vs Research

As research professionals, our careers rely on the gathering of information. Many times this information will be personal and require the researcher to respect not only the privacy of the respondents but the laws they fall under. Though following the five tips above is good, it is important to familiarize yourself with the laws of the country you are conducting the study with specific reference to the type of information you are asking for (ie: health info, monetary info, criminal activity). Beyond this, your organization or the one you are collecting the information for will most likely have internal policies on privacy. As a researcher, it is your responsibility to know and abide by these policies. If you are interested in learning about FluidSurveys’s methods of keeping its data secure check out this link to our security policies. Until next time, happy surveying!

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