Wednesday, September 19, 2012

My issue with privacy

I was talking to a client side colleague based in Germany about ethnographic release forms.

"We need and we obtain unlimited releases from respondents for all projects." she told me. "And they don't care what we do with their content."

By which she meant that they can use the data, video, interview in whatever way they wished. Respondents were effectively selling all their rights to those image in return for an incentive fee or a gift.

Good luck with that! I thought to myself.

Try telling a respondent in the US, Europe and even Asia Pacific that you want complete control over their footage. And they will show you the door. Not just because they value their future privacy - once the project is over. But because they are becoming increasingly aware of their rights.

"Do you not think", I asked, "that those same respondents won't come after you if they feel you have misused their information in some way? Do you think those releases actually mean anything to a very annoyed respondent?"

The days of unlimited and unrestricted release forms are fast disappearing. And more importantly, are not worth the paper they are written on. In my humble opinion.

The problem isn't the study itself. A client/agency can be explicitly clear about why they study is taking place, how their images will be used and who will view their images. The problem arises once the project is over. The content remains online for the client to access. Except clients will eventually need to access the content for reasons not originally explained to the respondents. Something called mission creep. Mission creep occurs when a colleague from (let's say) category management comes and asks you (let's say the research manager) to download a clip for presenting to a bunch of retail customers at an event. You have no way of contacting the respondent. And you don't want to compromise an important presentation.

My argument all along as been that using mobile tools we can give ownership to repondents themselves. On EthOS, as from today, a project owner can toggle on a permission feature during or after a study has been completed.

See the monitor downloads check box? Tick it...

Each time an entry is download, the respondent receives a request

Important note: This is an optional feature. And if activated, respondents do not, yet, need to 'release' an entry. We have designed this feature as a BETA test. And we will collect feedback from users and respondents about whether or not it works and how we can improve it.

Next step is to get ESOMR, MRS and legal people to have a look at this.