- February 6, 2008

Researchware is not Spyware

For good reason, concerns about privacy and data security have become an increasingly visible issue for the marketing industry in recent years – perhaps most notably in the online sector. The unprecedented access to data provides innumerable benefits to both consumers and businesses alike. It also demands a great deal of responsibility regarding how that information is gathered, protected and used. In this context, I think it’s critical to draw specific attention to the discipline of market research, its use of data and the many benefits it provides to corporations, academia, and the overall economy.

For generations, market research professionals have conducted invaluable studies of consumer attitudes and behavior for both the public and private sectors. Surveys and behavioral tracking studies provide the information necessary to ensure sound economic and social policies in the public sector. Information on consumer behavior and preferences helps the private sector develop new and improved products, identify new health care needs, improve the ergonomics of the products we use, spend their marketing dollars more efficiently and create countless products and services that improve the quality of life for everyone. Without market research, corporations would be operating “in the dark”, inefficiencies and error rates would increase, more new products would fail and the resulting increased marketing costs would have to be borne by the consumer. That’s not a pretty picture.

The Internet is a good example of an industry that is critically dependent on credible third party research that provides anonymous information on issues such as e-commerce trends, Web site visitation statistics and audience demographics, search activity, online advertising effectiveness and insight into countless other online behavior patterns. As with traditional media, advertisers demand such independent information in order to confidently invest in advertising-supported Web sites, which depend on advertiser support to offer free services to consumers.

However, the growth of the Internet as a powerful new medium also introduces the need to define specific practices of privacy protection and data security, to create an environment in which market research can continue to play its vital role. At Comscore, we adhere to strict tenets that the market research industry has fundamentally observed for decades. As such, we:

  • Provide research participants with clear notice of software functionality and data collection practices;
  • Obtain consent from participants prior to installation of any data collection software or collection of any behavioral data;
  • Collect and use data exclusively for market research purposes, and not for purposes of marketing or advertising products and services to our research participants;
  • Neither divulge, nor sell, personally identifiable information (PII) in any fashion to our clients;
  • Strictly safeguard the personally identifiable information, privacy and anonymity of panelists through technological means and established security practices;
  • Provide an easy method through which participants can cancel participation; and
  • Participate in review and certification of our practices by recognized and objective third party authorities

I believe that the relationship between a research participant and all reputable market research companies that adhere to these practices is important, and should be preserved. Market research tracking software (we have dubbed it “researchware”) needs to be differentiated from “adware,” “spyware,” and “malware” and should not be treated in the same way as these intrusive and potentially harmful applications. We must not let the purveyors of spyware – the rotten apples – give market researchers a bad name.

There is clear precedent for such differentiation in the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s creation of the Do Not Call (DNC) Registry and the Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR). Following a comprehensive review process, the FTC clearly differentiated survey research from telemarketing calls, thereby excluding market research fromTSR and DNC prohibitions.

Comscore will continue to safeguard the future of online market research as a crucial source of information and insights for industry, government and academia. I urge other market research and marketing firms, universities, industry and consumer associations – and the media – to join us in supporting the researchware initiative, thereby ensuring the continuation of legitimate forms of research that benefit society and the global economy.

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