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Internet Research and Online Surveys

If you are considering using an online survey tool, it is important for you to know that if the tool is owned by an American company (e.g. Survey Monkey, Google Docs), then you need to take certain steps to advise appropriately the risks to confidentiality or anonymity of your survey participants.  

It is important for you to know that online survey tools that are owned by American companies are subject to U.S. laws in particular the US Patriot Act, which allows authorities access to the records of internet service providers. This also applies in situations when the servers are hosted in or located in Canada, but the company is American-owned. 

UNLESS YOU INDICATE OTHERWISE when constructing your survey, a U.S.-owned company's servers will record incoming IP addresses including those of the computers that participants use to access the survey. You are advised to set up your survey to collect anonymous responses. The procedure for this depends on the type of collector/s you use:

1.   If you use a Web Link collector (or any other collector), you must configure it to not collect IP addresses.

2.   If you use the Email Invitation collector, you must configure it to not save the email addresses (in the Analyze section) and not to collect IP addresses.

If you are using a U.S.-owned survey tool, the following statement should be included in the Informed Consent statement of your survey:  

It is important for you to know that "[name of survey tool]" is a web-survey company that is owned by an American company. American owned companies are subject to U.S. laws and, in particular, the Patriot Act, which allows the U.S. government to access the records of internet service providers. No personal identifiers will be collected in this survey but it is possible that the views and opinions you expressed may be accessed and linked to you without your knowledge or consent. In an effort to maintain anonymity, during the design of this survey the option to collect your computer IP address has been disabled. The security and privacy policy for the name [name of survey tool] can be found at the following link: [insert appropriate link].

The Research Ethics Board endorses no particular online survey tool. RDC's Research Common maintains helpful information about online survey providers. 

ethics [at] rdc [dot] ab [dot] ca

Research Ethics Board, Chair:
Krista Robson: 403-314-2499

krista [dot] robson [at] rdc [dot] ab [dot] ca

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