Privacy and Security TidBits

The Data Privacy Debate in Social Media Market Research: A Legal Perspective

by Monique Altheim

Greenbookblog.org recently hosted a debate by representatives of research associations and companies engaged in social media research on the subject of data privacy in social media market research. Three major industry bodies were represented: CASRO, MRS and ESOMAR. The debate was spurred on by the recent issuing of new guidelines by ESOMAR, draft guidelines by CASRO and a discussion paper from MRS. The guidelines seek to apply the old, existing market research industry standards and best practices to social media research.

Social media marketing research includes includes netnography, blog mining, message boards, chat rooms, and forum analysis, and web scraping of social media sites. All the guidelines propose that the core fundamental principles guiding face to face, mail and telephone research (see: ICC/ESOMAR International Code of Marketing and Social Research Practice), should also apply to social media market research. The distinction between public and private space that determines the old marketing research guidelines is carried over online. For example, in “private” spaces, where users would expect their comments to be private, users cannot be identified without their prior consent. In “public” spaces, however, content is posted with the expectation that it will be read by the public. Examples are public blogs and comments left on public blogs and websites. Those users can be quoted and identified.

The industry organizations cite the need to maintain the public’s trust, as well as the hope to prevent impending legislation from applying to market research as the main reasons for encouraging self regulation. The market researchers on the other hand claim that with the advent of big data, social media sites and new technologies, the market research profession has changed. Focus groups and surveys are giving way to newer techniques such as analytics, crowd sourcing and sentiment analysis, and now include professionals that do not consider themselves old-school market-researchers and that do not let themselves be encumbered by the self-regulatory restrictions imposed by the old-school market research industry organizations. Why, say the traditional market-researchers, should they be disadvantaged in the market place by cumbersome self-regulation?

Meanwhile, it is important not to lose track of the legal landscape and examine the already existing national and international data privacy legislation, and see how they apply to market-research.

Read more here.