1989 – 2014: 25-YEARS IN MARKET RESEARCH. Got Ethics?

March 1989

With so much to do in the first two months of business, I had not given much thought to procedures for handling respondent data. And, I wonder how many think about it today. Quirk’s published CASRO’s Code of Standards in the March 1989 issue, and this became my new SOP. The article defined what constitutes a quality research project, and covered data collection guidelines for researchers to adopt.


The Council of American Survey Research Organizations (CASRO) is the national trade association for commercial survey research firms. A Code of Standards was approved by the CASRO Board of Directors in the Fall of 1988. The overview of the Code stated:


Quality is an essential element of a marketing research project and includes every area from project design through reporting of results. A quality research project is one that:

  • is objectively designed to address the needed areas of information
  • is conducted among the appropriate target audience
  • uses appropriate data collection technique(s)
  • is accurately and objectively edited, coded, and data processed
  • is objectively reported to the client.


The data collection guidelines covered: interviewer training, project briefing, interviewing, supervision, client billing, and flexibility. This was an established code that I could implement immediately to set quality control guidelines for my business.



March 2014

Ethics in the field of market research is a hot topic right now. A new report released February 2014 from the Global Research Business Network (GRBN) states, “more than four-in-ten (41%) respondents across the US and the UK do not trust market research companies to protect and appropriately use their personal data.” This has profound implications for the market research industry and has many industry leaders weighing in. CASRO’s updated Code has a great chart that breaks down what is considered “Ordinary Personal Data”, “Sensitive Personal Data”, and “Hyper-Sensitive Data”, and how that data should be handled and labeled.


The cover of the first quarter edition of Alert!, the Marketing Research Association’s trade publication, was The Code and You:  MRA Code of Marketing Research Standards. According to the publication’s editor, Amy Shields, “The Code’s principles are designed to promote an ethical culture in which honesty, professionalism, fairness and confidentiality combine to support the success of marketing research in its entirety.”


While MRA’s current edition of The Code encompasses 42 principles across three broad categories of responsibility: to respondents and prospective respondents, to clients and vendors, and professional responsibilities; I picked 17 that I think are important to keep in mind when embarking on your next market research project:


General Conduct

  1. Treat respondents with respect and in a professional manner.
  2. Protect the rights of respondents, including the right to refuse to participate in part or all of the research process.
  3. Influence no respondent’s opinion or attitude through direct or indirect attempts, including the framing or order of questions.
  4. Protect the privacy of respondents. Keep confidential all information/data that could identify respondents to third parties without the respondent’s consent. If such permission is given, it must be documented and the data may be used only for the purpose to which the respondent has agreed.
  5. Proactively or upon request identify by name the research organization collecting data.


Purpose of Use

  1. Obtain consent from respondents prior to utilizing their data in a manner materially different from that to which the respondent has agreed.
  2. Ensure that respondent information collected during any study will not be used for sales, solicitations, push polling or any other non-research purpose.



  1. Make factually-correct statements to secure cooperation, including for database/sample development, and honor all promises made to respondents including, but not limited to, the use of data.
  2. Ensure that respondents are informed at the outset if an interview or discussion is being audio- or video-recorded and obtain written consent if the recorded interview or discussion will be viewed by a third-party or reproduced for outside use.
  3. Not represent non-research activity as research.
  4. Provide respondents with clear notice and choice about participation when passively collecting data for research purposes from non-public sources or places, where the respondent would not reasonably expect information to be collected.
  5. When collecting data, maintain an internal do-not-contact database as a complement to requests made by respondents for future communications and participation in marketing research projects.
  6. Collect personally identifiable information (PII), including email addresses, whether actively or passively, only with respondent’s awareness or permission.
  7. Compile, maintain, and utilize internet samples of only those individuals who have provided their permission to be contacted for marketing research purposes and those who have a reasonable expectation based on existing business relationship that they will receive invitations for marketing research purposes.


Technical Compliance

  1. Consider data privacy a fundamental part of planning and the research process, and maintain a clear, concise and easy to understand privacy or terms of use policy that describes the ways respondent data is collected, used, disclosed, and managed.
  2. Take special care and adhere to applicable law when conducting research across state and national borders and with vulnerable populations including, but not limited to, children.
  3. When having the responsibility of creating products and services for use by respondents, provide products and services that are safe and fit for their intended use, are labeled in accordance with all laws and regulations, and provide the means to make the respondent whole should problems arise, in part by including emergency contact information.


Refer to MRA’s Alert! Magazine, First Quarter 2014 pp. 44-54 for the entire Code.