Category Archives: ethics

Obscure AND Potentially Personally Identifying? Let’s Ask It!

Sent in by a reader; click to embiggen:

Bad enough they’re asking for something few people would know offhand — and who wants to go fetch a piece of mail to get the answer  — but I think there’s an equally bad issue here regarding respondent confidentiality, at least theoretically.  A quick search of census data for some five-digit zip codes chosen at random from among those I’m familiar with around the country shows between about 8,500 and 16,000 occupied households in each. (I wouldn’t call that an average, as it’s practically anecdotal, but it’ll do for now, since I can’t find exactly what I’m looking for.)  A zip+4, though, is designed to be reflective of a much, much smaller geography. According to the US Postal Service:

The 4-digit add-on number identifies a geographic segment within the 5-digit delivery area, such as a city block, office building, individual high-volume receiver of mail, or any other unit that would aid efficient mail sorting and delivery

How small are those “geographic segments?” You can use this USPS lookup tool to get a sense of it. I live on a suburban street; my house is on a corner. My immediate neighbor around the corner has a different zip+4; the people across the street have a different zip+4; the house immediately behind me has a different zip +4. The house next door to me, though, and the two houses that follow it going down to the end of the block — those all have the same zip+4 data. Apparently, my personal zip+4 will narrow you down to one of four homes.

Now, presumably, you gave your full mailing address when you signed up for this panel, so it’s not as if the research company) doesn’t already know exactly who you are and where you live — and it’s not as if telephone research doesn’t contain your even more personally identifiable phone number right there in the data — but still, this makes me uncomfortable. Rather than using back-end databases to append that information in post-production (which, for the millionth time, would be the ideal way to deal with this situation), we’re instead outright asking for something that both makes your data pretty easy to tie back to you and which you don’t know in the first place. (I actually thought I knew mine, and I don’t, though I was fairly close.)

All in all, this strikes me as a really bad question. What do you think?


Filed under bad user experiences, data quality, databases are your friend, ethics, Market Research, redundant questions, web research

Greenfield: They’re Just Weird. (And why are they plagiarizing recipes from the BBC?)

A typical survey invite email from Greenfield Online:

greenfield is weird

I don’t get it. The recipe, the quotation from Aristotle, the mountain climber — what does any of this this have to do with orange juice? (I haven’t clicked to see what the survey is about yet, but I’m sure it’ll end up being about orange juice. Again. BTW, I just bought a 4-pack of Tropicana at Costco, because it’s what they have, not because I thought it was the most likely to be “outgoing” if it happened to “come to life as a person with distinct personality traits and characteristics.” And just scroll down a bit if you don’t know what I’m talking about.)

So anyway, that’s weird enough, and it was going to be a post on its own, but I figured I’d take a quick look through my in box and see what else Greenfield was using so I could mock them a little more. The very next invite I had included a recipe for monkfish pasta, and here’s where this starts to get pretty funny:

monkfish green

Greenfield is based in the US state of Connecticut. We don’t much use the metric system in America, and yet here’s a recipe that not only includes metric portions at all, but lists them first … and also refers to a type of fish (huss?) I’d never before heard of, as well as to  “double cream,” which despite sounding delicious, does not exist here. At all.

That all seemed odd enough that I copied and pasted the first line of ingredients into Google, and guess what the first hit was?



I’m no lawyer, but it’s probably legal for Greenfield to include this recipe, especially as it seems to be coming from the “Sea Fish Authority,” which seems to be an official UK agency. It’s just deeply weird, no? Why would you do this? What is it adding to the respondent experience? Was there research done on what consumers want in a survey invite, and did the results actually end up ranking “Strange recipes from other countries” slightly higher than “trivial facts about adorable animals?”

(from another invite:)

greenfield fox

(I can’t tell what the original source for this one is, though it’s surprisingly not Wikipedia, although that sentence about the British Isles does appear in the Red Fox entry there.)

Oh, Greenfield. Don’t ever change.


Filed under ethics, Greenfield, Market Research, web research

Lie To Me

Here’s a silly question:

Does anyone think this works?


While I suppose my parents might occasionally answer something like that truthfully, I’m sure as hell not. If I were, there’d be no blog. There’s surely an ethical discussion to be had, but I don’t personally feel like I have any ethical responsibility to some panel company or their subcontractor, at least not on this particular question; I’m nearly always completely honest on the rest.

(For that matter, shouldn’t all the professional respondents we keep hearing about be marking “yes” on these? They’re working in market research, right?)

Best part of this, of course, is that there’s no way to know if it works or not…so why do we keep doing it?


Filed under ethics, Market Research, open questions, web research