Privacy Issues: How Would You Like to Peek Over My Shoulder?

In the wake of the international kerfuffle about U.S. government spying, American companies are coping with a backlash from global clients concerned about privacy of personal information. Recent incidents of hacking and data theft have also caused domestic consumers to become uneasy about the personal information companies collect. There has also been concern about invasion of privacy by companies that were tracking the browsing habits of individuals and using or selling that information commercially.

Privacy lock

The European Union (EU) is cracking down on the collection, storage, use and transfer of personal information. In the EU, privacy is recognized as a guaranteed human right. This concern for the right of privacy is based in part on the experience of two World Wars and the Cold War where state-collected personal information was actually used to persecute citizens. Strict EU data protection laws are expected to be enforced more vigorously, particularly with regard to U.S. based companies doing business with European consumers or businesses.

In the field of market research, the goal has traditionally been to understand consumers in order to do a better job responding to their needs and marketing goods and services. The implicit message of traditional market research is “how may I help you”? In this brave new world of technology-driven communications, there is a potential to use information captured outside a traditional survey to more fully understand how, what and when people buy. Thus, there is a need to establish boundaries for data collection that ensure respect for privacy rights and laws.

As a custom market research company, Rockbridge has always had strict privacy and confidentiality policies, coupled with data security practices that satisfied the needs of our financial services clients. Recently, we have gone further to meet the demands of our global clients by restating and clarifying our privacy policies, and tightening down our data security practices. We are now self-certified compliant with the E.U.-U.S. Department of Commerce Data Privacy Safe Harbor Framework.

The policies required under Safe Harbor certification are not new at Rockbridge. Our company has always recognized the importance of ensuring a secure data collection and retention environment, and of assuring anonymity to survey respondents in order to obtain honest responses and to encourage study participation. We are proud to be members of the Council of American Survey Research Organizations (“CASRO”) and to adhere to the CASRO Code of Ethics, which is intended in part to assure that survey respondents are “appropriately informed about the survey’s intentions and how their personal information and survey responses will be used and protected”.

At Rockbridge we would also like to believe that today’s heightened privacy concerns will remind companies and institutions that traditional survey research is a great tool to help understand customers, stakeholders and constituents without violating their privacy. Instead of slicing and dicing volumes of data collected from individuals openly, surreptitiously and accidentally, we try to respectfully ask people to participate in and cooperate with market research. We will analyze other data legally collected by organizations about their customers and constituents, and we’ll do a great job at it. But what we truly love to do on behalf of our clients is to ask individuals—PEOPLE—“how may we help you.”

Written by: Deborah Colby, Chief Financial Officer