Mobile panels provide an interesting new way to conduct research. While we have had the ability to have online questionnaires answered on mobile devices for some time, mobile panels allow us to “intercept” respondents at a specific place. While the panels available differ somewhat in their offering, the most common approach is to have a respondent download a mobile app and provide appropriate permissions. Then, a researcher can set up a “geo fence” – and when the device crosses this fence a survey invite can be delivered.
This opens up some interesting opportunities. We can intercept respondents when we know they are in a particular store. Or on a college campus. Or at an event. Rather than rely on recall we can ask them what they are doing at a specific moment at a specific place.
Moreover, these services often allow us to link in various meta-data. Some of it can seem fairly big-brotherish. We can know how many texts or calls the person has made, where his/her phone has been, how often they use other apps such as social networking, news apps, etc. We can know what they have searched for online and where they have shopped.
The market research industry needs to tread lightly here, as even though from a legal standpoint respondents have provided permissions, from a practical standpoint they are unlikely to be aware that they just let the panel company track their every behavior. It has the potential to backfire on the industry.
As an example, the Do Not Call Registry specifically exempts market research calls. However, consumers don’t seem to know this, and telephone refusal rates skyrocketed once the Registry was put in place. Something similar could happen with mobile panels, and the panel providers should only gather what is necessary and reasonable. Much of what they gather today is neither.
Crux is highly involved in a local campaign to help prevent distracted driving that occurs as a result of mobile device usage. This has made us hyper-sensitive to anything that might cause driving distractions, which is why, if you call us and we are in a car, we will not answer your call as a matter of corporate policy.
Mobile panel providers need to be sensitive to this issue. One piece of information they know about their respondents is the speed their phone is currently traveling at. Mobile providers need to code their apps so that if the receiving phone is traveling at more than a walking speed the survey invitation is not delivered. It needs to wait for a safer time.
There is not a client in the world that needs to have a respondent answer their survey while they are driving. There is not a respondent in the world that needs to take this risk. By not having this in their apps, mobile providers will be causing accidents and injuries.
There are literally millions of survey invitations being sent to mobile panels each year. The next time you speak with a provider of these services, ask them if they prevent their respondents from answering while driving. If not, insist that they do!