Can I Send an Email With an Invitation to My Survey to Anyone?
The field of communication via email is regulated by applicable legislation, with various codes of ethics outlining recommendations for this area:
- According to the Personal Data Protection Act (ZVOP-1), an email address bound to an individual (as opposed to the general public email addresses of organizations, such as for example firstname.lastname@example.org) is considered to be personal data. In accordance with Article 8 of the Act, the processing of personal data is only permitted if the processing is required by law (for example, it is admissible within the industry), or if the personal consent of the individual is obtained. Processing of personal data includes any operation or set of operations which is performed on personal data that is processed automatically or manually or is intended for inclusion in a collection of personal data, especially the collection, recording, editing, storage, adaptation or alteration, retrieval, insight, use, disclosure by transmission, communication, dissemination or other availability, alignment, integration, blocking, anonymizing, deletion or destruction; processing can be either manual or automated (means of processing).
- In the area of sales and marketing, the Consumer Protection Act is used, whose Article 45 stipulates that companies can use one of the forms of electronic communication only with prior consent from the consumer for whom the message is intended.
- The field of electronic communication is governed by the Electronic Communications Act (ZEKom-1), which stipulates in Article 158 on unsolicited communications that the use of email communication for purposes of direct marketing may only be based on the customer's or user's prior consent.
- The association ESOMAR issued its Guideline for online research (chapter on ethical issues), which stipulate that we must indicate how we obtained each email address when sending email invitations. In addition, the guideline emphasizes that emails should not be sent knowingly to those who did not agree to participate in the study.
- The association CASRO issued its Code of standards and ethics for survey research (chapter on internet research) stipulates that email invitations are to be sent only to those addressees for whom it is reasonable to expect that they will accept the invitation to participate in the study. The basis for this may be the consent of the addressee on the basis of prior contact with the research team/individual.
We can thus conclude that consent must be obtained for email invitations, with a few exceptions. In the case of business email addresses, the guidelines are a bit more forgiving, as business addresses are generally open for business contacts. Email addresses that are collected for research only for narrow administrative purposes are considered an exception; an example may be internal surveys conducted by various societies, where participants are asked to participate in a survey or receive information via email on the basis of membership.
Potential respondents do not take kindly to unwanted emails and on rare occasions contact 1KA (despite the fact that 1KA is not the sender of these emails), or even threaten an attack on the 1KA server. Such reactions are unethical and illegal and they are reported to the Slovenian Computer Emergency Response Team (SI-CERT). The corresponding survey can be removed from 1KA, since sending unwanted invitations violates a basic prerequisite to the use of our service. So far we have limited 2 surveys that violated the provisions relating to spam content, due to threats and attacks on the server.
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