Privacy Protection – The Inside Track

Privacy Protection – The Inside Track

My morning routine starts the same nearly every day – pour myself a cup of coffee and scroll through the news to see what’s going on in the world. Hardly a day goes by without seeing at least one story detailing a privacy-related incident, either an app taking too much personal data without explicit user consent, or a website mishandling data and leaving personal information exposed on the web. The control of ones’ identifiable data is a hot-button issue of our time and for good reason. We’ve seen the EU collectively begin to enact and enforce more stringent regulations and many nations are already following suit.

Those of us in the Market Research community have been keenly aware of the importance of maintaining strict privacy standards long before it floated to the top of public consciousness. Due to the unique nature of Market Research, a qualitative study may have to adhere to any number of commercial, regional or national privacy regulations. Our experience overcoming these challenges is perhaps what makes FocusVision so uniquely prepared to offer solutions for an increasingly privacy-conscious world. Our suite of privacy protection tools have been painstakingly designed in order to maximize client access and data usability while simultaneously enabling our clients to protect respondent anonymity for data subject consent compliance.

The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), requires that research participants or “data subjects” must be provided with transparency about the organization(s), which determine the “purpose and means of controlling processing the personal data”. In GDPR terms, these organizations are the “data controllers”, i.e. the client who is the research sponsor and their research agency, and the data subject must be informed of their identity in order for personal data to be shared.

However, the GDPR applies only to un-anonymized personal data. Data that has been anonymized falls outside of the scope of the GDPR. As a result of this, where the GDPR applies FocusVision’s position is that:

  • If a data controller (client/agency) wishes to view a research interview in non-anonymized form, the client’s identity must be disclosed to the data subject
  • If a client wishes to view a research interview in the anonymized form, the client’s identity does not need to be disclosed to the data subject.

The challenge for qualitative researchers is that their research often contains a lot of personal data some of which are obvious, like a person’s image, and some which are not at all easy to spot. Still, removing personal data has many benefits and the effort can be worthwhile.

First, it provides the ultimate protection for the data subject’s personal information (because there isn’t any) thereby allowing researchers to maintain the relationship of trust with the data subject that our industry has worked so hard to create. Also, by making it impossible (or reasonably infeasible) to connect personal data back to the data subject, data controllers and their processors may access, use, process and share the research data with significantly fewer restrictions and without the need to identify the data subject. This last point cannot be overstated. The negative impact that the naming of the data controller has had on market research has been significant (and the subject for another day). So how does one go about removing personal data?

FocusVision’s privacy suite includes 2 unique tools, (1) a “Report PII” Personal Data marking Tool and (2) a “Video and Voice Anonymization” feature.

Our LiveVideo interface includes a “Report PII” button which any online observer may use to quickly and easily flag any moment(s) when personal data may have been accidentally revealed. Activating the Report PII button allows the viewer to make a quick annotation of the event, (e.g., participant’s last name mentioned) and alerts FocusVision support staff to temporarily disable access to the archive until the listed project leader has been contacted and any required editing approved.


The Voice Anonymization feature is automated and, once requested, is capable of modulating respondent voice patterns, protecting individual respondent identity while preserving audio quality for later review or transcription. Available on-demand for all live LiveVideo sessions, this feature will blur the project transmission and modulate all voices such that data subject identity is anonymized, but audio quality is preserved for the live event and possible transcription needs.

It is important to note that while the Report PII button is available on all LiveVideo projects, we require that our clients or their agencies request the video blurring and audio distortion; ideally at the time of booking the project but at least 24 hours prior to the project start time.

As privacy protection continues to be a growing concern, FocusVision is the only qualitative provider able to offer researchers the comprehensive support and tools to make the most of your research. For more information on these privacy tools please connect with your account contact or contact us at Additionally, please check out our GDPR frequently asked questions page on our website.

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