Privacy issues

Do surveys have to comply with guidelines?

Last Saturday night, I received a call on my mobile phone from someone conducting a survey for a research company.

I have given my responses for many such surveys in the past, most of them looking for on-the-ground opinion on the current situation, recently announced policies and so on.

This survey also sounded similar. The caller told me that the survey would take about 10 minutes.

Initially the questions were about how I felt about the pandemic and if I was happy with actions by the Government, and if I have used the services of various government departments.

But then the questions became quite specific about personal matters and household income.

Though I said I would like to skip those, paraphrased questions were asked around the same topics.

The survey continued with questions on the type of house I am living in, how many rooms, how many phones we hold, how many TV sets we have… questions I think are not necessary for demographic analysis.

By then the survey had already taken up 30 minutes. So I said I did not want to be part of the survey any more.

Are these kinds of surveys covered by the overall Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) framework?

At the beginning of the survey I was told things would be kept confidential.

But after this experience, I think the authorities should set some ground rules for such surveys conducted by private agencies.

They should cover things like telling respondents where their contact numbers were obtained from, what kind of questions to expect, and how long realistically the survey would take.

They should clearly mention if there will be any questions on personal and financial matters too.

The respondents should also be told they have the option to stop the survey if they do not want to continue, or whether the conversation is being recorded.

The person conducting the survey should also give his name, company name, contact number and some survey identifier, just in case respondents have any issues later.

Even if I would like to have my voice heard, I will have to think twice after this experience.

Ramamurthy Mahesh Kumar

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 14, 2021, with the headline 'Do surveys have to comply with guidelines?'. Subscribe