Global Standards for Mobile Research Released by ESOMAR

ESOMAR, the global organization for marketing research, recently issued its Guideline on Mobile Research. In collaboration with the Global Research Business Network, the organizations establish standards for privacy notices, device security, paradata, and much more. The document “is intended to support researchers, especially those in small and medium-sized research organisations, in addressing legal, ethical and practical considerations when conducting research using mobile devices.” Building on the fundamentals of proper marketing research traditions and in consideration of local laws, the Guideline brings previous standards up to date on mobile technology.

Specifically, the Guideline is designed to cover “collection and use of personal data by mobile devices (mobile phones, tablets and other similar mobile computing devices) for the purpose of market, opinion or social research and data analytics (hereafter referred to as ‘research’). It also recognizes that there are many other activities enabled by these devices including general use of the Internet, posting to social media networks, consuming different types of media and online shopping, to name a few. These data, too, may be used for research.”

In general, the Guideline specify that researchers should treat respondents with the most respect, protecting their privacy, identities, and devices from any possible injury or harm. However, in addition to specifying acceptable practices and standards, the Guideline has a list of unacceptable practices*, most of which relate to research that includes installing software or applications on the respondent’s device. While these may sound like common sense, mobile marketing research is a brave new world, so they bear stating outright. Mobile marketing researchers must not install software or applications that:

  • Have not been thoroughly tested.
  • Modify the mobile settings beyond what is necessary to conduct research, without the consent of the data subject.
  • Cause conflicts with the operating system or causes other installed software to behave erratically or in unexpected ways.
  • Are hidden within other software that may be downloaded or that are difficult to uninstall.
  • Deliver advertising content, beyond that required for legitimate advertising research.
  • Change the data collected without notifying the data subject and offering the opportunity to opt-out.
  • Place unusually high demand on the device’s battery unless specific consent is obtained.
  • Result in costs to the data subject that are incurred without consent and which are not reimbursed by the researcher.
  • Use geolocation tracking software without the consent of the data subject.
  • Transmit personal data that are not encrypted.
  • Change the nature of any identification and tracking technologies without notifying and gaining the consent of the data subject.
  • Fail to notify the data subject of privacy practice changes relating to an upgrade.
  • Collect personal data that may be used by the app provider for non-research purposes without consent.
  • Extract information from the mobile device or phone unless this information is part of the purpose of the study and consent is obtained.
  • On completion of the research, any apps no longer required must be deactivated and respondents notified and instructed on how to safely remove the app or software from their device.

Mobile marketing research gives us exciting new ways to learn about consumer behavior. We can be in-the-moment with respondents and reduce the variability of human memory. We can observe their behavior without our obtrusive presence biasing the results. We can introduce specific marketing messages at the point of purchase to determine maximum impact.

But all these exciting benefits are only available to us as long as we remain vigilant in continuously protecting respondents. Remember: protect respondents’ privacy and identity, and prevent any kind of potential harm that might result from your research.

*Excerpts from the Guideline on Mobile Research.

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