Online Surveys And The Data Protection Act

Philip Cleave
February 8, 2013

Through online surveys you can generate data from thousands of respondents in a very easy way. Whether you wish to speak to employees, customers, service users, stakeholders, the general public or anyone else, online surveys allow you to quickly measure the current situation.

It is hugely important that you design your online questionnaire properly, that you roll it out in a well-managed fashion and that you are able to understand the results. Your starting point, however, is that you comply with the law. Under The Data Protection Act 1998, there are a few things that must be included in your questionnaire. These are:

  • The name of the company that conducts the online surveys (this is you)
  • How you will handle the data that you collect through your respondents

This last point is the most complicated of The Data Protection Act, because it means that you have to make it abundantly clear that the responses will remain confidential, although the results may not be. If you collect any personal data through your online surveys, you must make it very clear what you will use it for. Most customers prefer it if you do not use their data for any other purposes, but if you intend to collate their details and sell them or reuse them, you have to inform them of this as well as giving them the option to opt out.

Online surveys are very important tools, but many people who you may wish to target have lost confidence in them, particularly due to the fact that so many companies sell the details on to direct marketing companies. You are within your right to do so, but under The Data Protection Act you must ensure that respondents have the opportunity to know that this is what you will do and to tell you they don’t want to participate before they continue with the questionnaire.


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