Survey monkey and clear privacy breach

August 8, 2014 |

Now Australia has real, if potential, and, hopefully effective, enforcement provisions within the Privacy Act it is only for the Privacy Commissioner to take action.  He might have a look at Survey Monkey’s activities based on the contents of the Australian‘s article SurveyMonkey mines details for database. In the United States data mining has developed into a very profitable business which has morphed into a data broking industry.  That has caused the Federal Trade Commission serious concerns.  The Victorian Bar has used Survey Monkey in its surveys.  I don’t recall any advice or notification as to how data I was providing when responding to a survey would be used beyond the expectation it was being used only for the purpose for which it was being sought, surveying a member of the Bar about Bar related matters.

The article provides:

THOUSANDS of Australians have signed up to fill out surveys online, in the process donating money to charity, but their details are now being mined in a big data product launched this week by US-based online survey firm SurveyMonkey.

The firm has collected “dozens of targeting criteria” from their Australian respondents — which may include location, demographic information, mobile phone information, interests and shopping preferences — by which they can segment their database and provide sales information to Australian companies.

SurveyMonkey began in the US 15 years ago as a way for small-to-medium sized businesses to research their own customers relatively cheaply. Now there is widespread use of their Enterprise product among big brand owners and the company’s technology is used internationally, with more than two million Australians filling out a SurveyMonkey questionnaire each month.

The company is progressively building a panel of Australian respondents whose data can be mined to provide information on a wide range of issues.

“We’re hoping to have an Australian database of about 20,000,” SurveyMonkey Audience general manager and vice-president Brent Chudoba said. “When people sign up, we progressively collect more data.

“When customers come to us and want to know how 24-to-32-year-olds use their smart phone, for example, we can provide that information for you,” he said. “It’s leveraging the millions of data points we gather every day.”

Mr Chudoba said the company was “very transparent” to respondents, on whose behalf the company donates 50c to charity per survey, about how their data is used. Australia is one of SurveyMonkey’s top four markets and three people have been hired for a Sydney office, announced in May.



One Response to “Survey monkey and clear privacy breach”

  1. bennett

    Hello – Wanted to comment and address your concern about privacy. Let me clearly state that SurveyMonkey does not use/sell individual survey data. The survey data collected is owned by the survey creator and they have control and oversight on how the data is collected/shared/used. The data you provided during the Victorian Bar survey is not being used beyond the purpose of the survey.

    The article above, from the Australian, mixed the facts up between our core SurveyMonkey product and our new offering – SurveyMonkey Audience. It has been amended by the newspaper to correct some of the mistakes that were reported in the original article, but not all. Let me try to clarify:

    1. The database of “dozens of targeting criteria” being created and used for market research is not the SurveyMonkey database, it’s the new Audience database. The people putting their data into the new Audience database are specifically supplying their information for use in market research and they know that before they voluntarily supply their information. It is separate from the survey database. The article states that we are mining the core SurveyMonkey database, which is factually incorrect. You can view our privacy policy here to verify:

    2. With regards to the SurveyMonkey Audience database, we do not segment and provide sales information to companies from this product either and we are very clear about how the data is used in our privacy policy: We use the information to ensure that we route relevant market research surveys to that person (and then the person can decide to take the survey or not). For instance, if the market research survey is about baby food, the survey should be routed to people who have babies. If it is about cars, it should be routed to people who own or are in the market for cars. For each survey the person takes, SurveyMonkey contributes 50 cents to a charity that has been pre-selected by the respondent.

    The article was corrected to reflect the fact that we do not sell any data to companies nor do we provide any personal information to third parties. You can find the updated article here:

    We wanted to reach out and apologize for any misunderstanding the article might have caused, but rest assured, we do not data mine and we do not sell our customer’s survey data to third parties. Feel free to reach out to us if you ever have any concerns.

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