Mobile Surveys Are Better in One Surprising Way: You Get More Revealing Personal Information
Contrary to some widely held beliefs that mobile devices are a barrier to survey participation, a majority of survey respondents nowadays fill them out on phones, rather than on desktops, laptops, or tablets.
Research has amply documented that the quality and reliability of data collected via mobile devices is comparable to data collected on desktops. Now, research is beginning to show that data collected via mobile devices may be superior in some ways to data collected from desktops.
An article just published in the Journal of Marketing suggests people are more self-disclosing with personal information and their emotions when they complete tasks on cell phones, compared to when they are on computers. These findings are reported by two professors at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School based on a series of field studies and controlled experiments. In the authors’ words:
Consumers tend to be more self-disclosing when generating content on their smartphone versus personal computer. This tendency is found in a wide range of domains including social media posts, online restaurant reviews, open-ended survey responses, and compliance with requests for personal information in web advertisements.
Why does this happen? They suggest two factors at work. First, people feel a sense of personal comfort with their phones, because (a) this is how people stay in touch with family and friends, and (b) mobile phones play an important role in structuring their leisure time and activities. Second, completing tasks on cellphones narrows people’s focus because it is more difficult, which means they focus less on “peripheral thoughts and cues that might otherwise inhibit disclosure.”
The article gets a bit creepy, though, when it starts discussing ways in which marketing professionals can “leverage” these findings to persuade people into providing sensitive, personal information. Is that what marketing professionals should be doing? I hope you agree the answer is “no” because it starts crossing the line into unethical business practices like those of the now-defunct Cambridge Analytica.
But research professionals work in somewhat different capacity. Sometimes we explore personal topics, like those related to health, finances, and families. We want respondents feeling comfortable sharing their personal opinions and details about their experiences. One valuable takeaway from this research is that smartphones can help.
Even then, however—and even from a purely practical viewpoint—we can, and should, avoid gathering sensitive and personal information in most cases. PII and other sensitive data create burdens of privacy protection and risk that we ought to avoid if we possibly can. Yes, I value rich open-ends and truthful answers to difficult questions. But I definitely do not want fully “uninhibited disclosure” from survey respondents like the authors of this research suggest.
—Joe Hopper, Ph.D.