The Creepy Factor with Google Surveys
It is hard to find an appropriate use for Google Surveys, because, as we outlined in a review article last fall, its capabilities are limited. But last week we needed a quick incidence test of how many U.S. adults own a certain type of investment product. Google Surveys seemed perfect. It was not fast, by the way. It took five days to collect data from 200 respondents. Google says this is because we asked a screening question before asking about product ownership. Even so, this survey took longer than a standard omnibus.
But what struck me most about my trial run with Google Surveys was the Creepy Factor. It made me realize in a most uncomfortable way that Google tracks everything I do. I knew this already, and I follow ongoing discussions about online privacy. I have a personal g-mail account, a G+ page, and I use Google as the starting point for almost everything I do on the Internet. I know that they track everything I do. But it was never so creepy and apparent until I fielded a Google survey. How was it creepy?
1. Two months ago I was offered $75 off my first survey via PRSA (the Public Relations Society of America), a professional association to which I belong. I learned about it through my work e-mail and followed the link for more details. I had no use for it at the time, so decided against it and navigated away. Bam. A personalized coupon showed up in my (non-work) g-mail account.
2. So last week I decided to give it a try. I did the design, made the appropriate selections for sample size, etc. When it came time to submit and pay, Google pulled up credit card information, asking for any updates and an authorization. How did they have all that information? I must have used Google Wallet sometime in distant past. I honestly can’t recall, but having an old (expired) credit card number automatically pulled up for a service I have never used was creepy.
3. I never created an account, logged in, or provided any type of password to manage the project or see results. Information was instantly displayed by typing “google consumer survey” on my home page search bar. Yes, I know it’s because I remained logged into my g-mail account on my computer. But even at my office, being “in” does not automatically give me access to all computers, accounts, data, services and projects. I value additional layers of security for my work and for the work I am doing on behalf of clients.
4. Most important of all: who do you suppose owns the data from my survey? Stupid question, right? Google is tracking every survey I do and every survey question I field. No doubt they are tracking every person who responded to my survey. Google claims not to track how those individuals are answering survey questions, but surely they are using all of this data for their purposes, not mine.
I will think twice about fielding another Google survey. It works well, and recent election data shows that the surveys are highly accurate. But in most cases this will not out-weigh the cost of having my survey data tracked, sold, and leveraged by a company that proudly claims it is not evil.