@ilegal blogs

Privacy, personal data and online surveys

I do wonder sometimes if I get too bothered about the detail and whether anyone else is really that fussed (or whether it’s even important). An example was when I was thinking about setting up the Big Advice Survey in late 2014. I was annoyed at the way a lot of online surveys (and petitions too) seemed to me to be little more than thin veneers for harvesting personal data and contact information. So, I decided that the Big Advice Survey was going to be different and was going to try incorporate privacy issues from the get-go. I also subscribe to the excellent Information Rights and Wrongs blog written by Jon Baines, and Jon was kind enough to give me some feedback on what I was trying to do at the outset

The blog post below is reproduced from the Big Advice Survey privacy statement and contains the main things I’ve done so you can see the issues I thought needed addressing. I don’t believe I’ve necessarily got it 100% right but I do think it is a step in the right direction in the small, perhaps slightly esoteric world of survey design and respecting respondent privacy


Personal data

Did you know online surveys, even ones that say your responses are anonymous, collect your computer’s Internet Protocol (IP) address by default? Your computer’s IP address is its individual identity on the Internet and can be used along with other information to locate where you are and to identify who you are

We believe people should be secure in the knowledge that their identifying data isn’t being ‘harvested’ without their permission when taking any survey. To do this, we have chosen to disable IP collection in the Big Advice Survey. This means that when taking the Big Advice Survey your computer or device’s IP address is secure and will not be collected or stored by us as part of your response


SSL encryption is turned on for the Big Advice Survey. SSL encrypts whatever you enter into the survey and further protects your privacy as data is sent between your computer and SurveyMonkey

Survey links and email invitations

Ever been invited to complete a survey by email? Online tools like Survey Monkey allow you to create dedicated emails that tell whoever created the survey (and Survey Monkey) whenever you click on the survey link in the email and allow them to match up your responses to your email address and name. Bear in mind too that your contact details will have already been given by whoever is conducting the survey to Survey Monkey or whichever other tool is being used to allow these email invites. We do not use email collectors to gather survey respondents – there is only one link, or path to the Big Advice Survey: (or its shortened (better for tweeting) version

We want your opinions, not your personal data

We are only interested in what you think about the questions we ask in the Big Advice Survey. We will not ask you for any personal identifying information at all during the survey so it is highly improbable that we or anyone else could ever identify you from your response. Additionally, you can also choose to skip any question you are uncomfortable with if you think your response could set you apart more easily from the responses of other people around the country

We believe all surveys should show some respect for those who are being asked to complete them by addressing respondent privacy and confidentiality in a transparent and informative manner. We would suggest that if you are being asked take a survey that does not include clear information on what of your data is being collected along with your responses, you decline

An abbreviated version of this statement is included on the first page of the Big Advice Survey itself

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This entry was posted on March 14, 2015 by in Patrick's projects, survey, Useful tools and tagged , , , , , .
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