The Importance Of Keeping Survey Responses Confidential

Philip Cleave
November 10, 2016

When conducting online surveys, confidentiality is always an important consideration. Online survey responses must be kept confidential and within the parameters of The Data Protection Act. Reassuring respondents, who are participating in your surveys, that the information they are giving will remain confidential is of the utmost importance and setting their minds at rest about this will improve your survey response rates.

When collecting personal data via online surveys, it is essential you make it very clear what the data will be used for. Respondents prefer that you do not use their data for any other purposes than for the research you are carrying out. If you intend to collate personal details and reuse them, you have to inform the respondent that this is happening and clearly provide the option to opt out.

The Data Protection Act regulates how people’s personal information is used. Everyone responsible for using data has to follow strict rules called ‘data protection principles’. They must make sure the information is:

  • Used fairly and lawfully
  • Used for limited, specifically stated purposes
  • Used in a way that is adequate, relevant and not excessive
  • Accurate
  • Kept for no longer than is absolutely necessary
  • Handled according to people’s data protection rights
  • Kept safe and secure
  • Not transferred outside the European Economic Area without adequate protection

Ensuring that people’s survey responses are truly confidential will go a long way to making sure that you receive a greater number of completed responses and that the answers are more honest. However, it has been known that some companies cover themselves by using small print to allow them to sell on information to direct marketing companies.

Increasing the Number of Survey Responses

  1. Make sure that respondents, who reply to your online questionnaire, see that they are providing confidential survey responses.
  2. Start your survey by providing them with information about what data you are collecting, why you are collecting it and how it will be used. Don’t wait until the end of the survey to tell them.
  3. Convey to them that you will treat their survey responses in line with the Data Protection Act.
  4. State that you have no intention of using survey response information other than for your questionnaire.
  5. Be upfront about the confidentiality in a very clear and easy to understand manner, rather than providing a huge disclaimer in legal jargon that nobody will read.

Anonymous Surveys

One way to increase the amount of true and reliable data you receive is to send anonymous surveys. If respondents know that there is no way of tracing their responses back to them they are usually more willing to respond to questions honestly.

Survey Tip of the Day– Don’t forget when creating the questions for your survey, you must not include any questions that ask the respondent for personal details.

How do I create an anonymous survey?

  1. When you have created your survey, open up the survey settings.
  2. Select Features from the settings list.
  3. Select the check-box next to Enable Anonymous Survey.
  4. Click Save Changes.

Using Opt Out or Unsubscribe

Furthermore, make sure that your respondents always have the opportunity to opt out of receiving email invitations. This will increase the trust people have in you and their willingness to reply to your questionnaire. When sending out an email template through the bulk Email Tool, you will have the option of enabling Open Tracking. This feature will allow you to track the status of your emails once they have left our system. “Opt-Out” is displayed when a contact follows the opt out link within the email invitation. Any further emails sent to these contacts are automatically blocked.

When Open Tracking is enabled, a graphic is added to the email template. This will then allow SmartSurvey to check the status of an email once it has been sent. The screenshot below shows the tracking information you can view.

Reassuring people about privacy seems very simple to do, but you would be surprised at the number of responses you are missing out on simply because people have lost faith in the functionality and application of online surveys. Some people believe it is your way of harvesting their details, rather than their opinions on a specific issue. It is your responsibility to set their minds at ease.

At SmartSurvey, we take data protection very seriously and are proud to be registered under the Data Protection Act. Please contact us if you would like any more information on getting started with online surveys.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in March 2013 and has been revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.


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