This is the second and final post from Michael Link on location.
Privacy and ethics concerns in research are not new, but they have taken on considerably higher visibility in our 24/7 news world as researchers test the bounds of new measurement approaches. At a recent symposium on Leveraging Location hosted by Nielsen, a panel of legal experts provided some thoughts in this area on issues researchers are encountering today. Their insights went well beyond location data, hitting on aspects that involve many of us working with data from the public. (Obligatory warning: I’m not a lawyer; these are simply my observations and interpretation of the discussion). Three broad lessons caught my attention:
First and foremost, start with the respondent/consumer, understanding and acting in accordance with their expectations. How data are collected and the insights generated should be readily apparent to the “average person.” If your starting point is “the law” or “what is legal”, you’ve already put yourself in a hole. Laws and regulations provide a base -- a bare minimum, what the public demands is often much more. As researchers we should operate within the reasonable expectations of the majority of the public, yet not necessarily feel constrained by folks on the extremes.
Second, to lead in innovation you cannot be afraid to have your name in the paper and receive negative comments. In essence, as one panelist put it “get comfortable not being comfortable.” Pushing the envelope involves a degree of calculated and real risk. If your organization likes to keep a low profile and acts with alarm at the first half-dozen negative emails received, then you might want to take “innovation leader” off of your long-term business strategy. Note that Rule #1 above is still in effect, so setting expectations accordingly and having a good grasp of the potential risks is imperative.
Third, time is an important and often under-appreciated dimension of attitudes towards privacy and ethics. These are not static features of our society, but rather evolving concepts. What may have been unthinkable a few years ago (using a smartphone as a “virtual wallet”) now seems commonplace. Likewise, certain aspects of data collection in this digital/organic data era that seem unreasonable to the public today (and hence, would be good to avoid) may become more readily accepted with time and incremental exposure. The trick to innovating, of course, is knowing when the time may be right. To this there is no clear right answer, but the public (and the press) will let you know if you have chosen unwisely.