Is your mobile market research ethical?

As I have mentioned before, Navin Williams, Reg Baker, and I are producing a course on mobile marketing research for the University of Georgia’s Principles of Marketing Research course. As the materials are developing, I am posting some of the items here to get your feedback on whether we are on the right track and to acquire additional cases for the course.

I have just finished a section on laws, guidelines, regulations, and ethics and I have included a checklist. I would appreciate hearing you views on the checklist below.

Ethics Checklist – Mobile Marketing Research

No list can be complete or fully up-to-date, but this checklist should be useful when scoping a mobile marketing research project, in terms of ethics and guidelines:

  1. Is it legal? Check whether, in the country where the research is happening, with the approaches being used, and for the topic being researched, is it allowed within the relevant laws? In all cases the law should take precedence over industry or company guidelines. With a mobile study this includes when and how you can contact people (auto-dialers are not legal in some countries), what you can record (location and traffic data are restricted in some countries), and where the respondent can and cannot be (in most countries they can’t be driving and they can’t be in a sensitive area, for example customs and immigration at airports).
  2. Is it marketing research? Marketing researchers are increasingly being called on to use their skills on projects that are not marketing research. If a project is not marketing research the researcher should ensure that it is not called, or made to appear as, marketing research and should abide by the relevant laws and guidelines.
  3. Are you collecting personally identifiable data? Note, this includes photographs of people’s faces. If you are collecting personally identifiable data, you will need to have permission, you will need to follow data protection/privacy rules, and you should only collect such data as is needed by the project (don’t collect things just in case).
  4. Have you acquired informed consent? The main challenge with mobile marketing research is to ensure that the consent from the participants is adequately informed, especially when collecting passive data. If you collect video and images of people other than the research participant, have you acquired their permission?
  5. How will you avoid annoying people, for example an SMS to their phone at 1am in the morning may well wake them. In a global study, or in a country with different time zones, extra steps are required to ensure that MMR does not become a source of annoyance. Also, can the participant re-start the study if they lose their connection
  6. Try to make sure that the participant does not put themselves in danger. Check they are not driving or operating heavy machinery, advise them not to take pictures or videos of unsuitable subjects, such as other people’s children.
  7. What confidence can the user of the research have in the findings? If different participants will see versions of the surveys, rendered in different ways, in different circumstances, how will that impact the results? How has the sample been obtained, what does it represent, what can it be taken as a reasonable proxy for?

A good place to check that your research is heading in the right direction is ESOMAR, whose Guideline For Conducting Mobile Market Research is an important resource to researchers.

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