A friend of mine recently received a survey about the Summit Bike Share program. The survey ask questions like whether you ride a bike more after using the bike share, what changes you would make, and how you would rate features. I was about to write a scathing email about the use of Survey Monkey. It’s my belief that FEW serious organizations use Survey Monkey to make any decisions. That’s because it’s an online survey, often not crafted by professionals, and not usually representative (for a number of reasons). Therefore it provides unscientific results.
We’ve been hard on the school district, but they provide an example of what should be done. They recently hired Lighthouse Research and Development to create and administer a survey about why their bond failed. It’s a professional way to do it. The results are somewhat meaningful.
In this case, an online survey is rarely meaningful, but we’ll leave it at that. If you hear of any results of a Summit Bike Share Survey, we would say “take it for what it’s worth.” That said, there are more important issues here.
The more important issue is one of privacy and data collection. As part of our research above, we wondered if it would be possible to submit thousands of surveys anonymously, in order to skew results. What we found is that the survey was distributed via email and it contains a link to the survey that has a user identifier in it. It appears that by default Survey Monkey ties this user identifier back to responses. So, it is likely that the responses are not anonymous. More importantly, the survey asks two questions:
What? Why do they need to know your age? Isn’t this about how to make the program better? More importantly, why do they need to know your income? That’s a head scratcher.
Unless explicitly turned off by the survey creator, all survey responses are tied back to your email (and name).
Sweet, your privacy is governed by some bike share out of Tennessee! Gives you faith doesn’t it?
Now, to be somewhat fair, most of this is run by a company called Bewegen out of Canada (the makers of the e-bikes). Their company name is at the bottom of the survey email. However, it’s done on behalf of Summit County and Park City. The question I ask is should my friend expect her name to be tied to every survey question she answered and will that be provided to Summit County and Park City? Almost certainly. Will her age be on that survey response? Probably. Will her income be on that survey response? I’d guess so.
Just like with the School Board audit, the buck stops with Summit County and Park City. They are ultimately responsible for the actions of Bewegen.
Our only hope is that no one provided any information they didn’t want employees of Park City, Summit County, or some random Canadian company to see. If our local governments were provided with your name, email, age, and income, we hope they would delete those columns of information upon receipt. We’d hope they aren’t saying things like “Can you believe Sally Jones is really 59?” or “how does the Jones family make $125,000?”.
Again, it’s just a mess. We’ve outsourced this process and it feels out of control. Who knows who has your information?
We’ve got to be better.