Serene Queries

Are there special requirements for qualitative research conducted in Germany?

Feb 25, 2020

Hello Kim – I hope all is well!
We have another privacy-related question and I’m hoping you may be able to shed some light on this.

During several of our recent global research projects we have encountered challenges that seem to be specific to carrying out qualitative research in Germany.

We are currently unclear whether these challenges are simply due to our vendors putting rules in place that aren’t necessary (and using privacy legislation as an excuse to do so), or whether they are in fact following procedures required by German law (which I appreciate may well be more restrictive than GDPR).

We are hoping you can advise us on this issue and our questions below – thinking about Germany specifically, and qualitative research specifically.

Our questions are:
• When recruiting participants for qualitative research, in order to ensure we recruit ethnically diverse groups, is it ok to ask participants their ethnicity, religion, gender identity when recruiting?
• Can qualitative interviews be filmed for the purposes of bringing the research findings to life in a video that may be publicly used in the context of the research findings? (for example at a conference). We have no problem with this in any other European country given the right consents etc. are in place, but Germany appears to be different
• Is there a fixed time period after which recordings (audio and video) and photos of German respondents MUST be deleted, or is it – as elsewhere and per GDPR – dependent on the research need? If there is such a period defined in German law, can that time period be waived by gathering any type of consent from the participants?

We look forward to your thoughts and appreciate your help with this.

Thanks!
Christian

Experts Response

Nov 10, 2020

Dear Christian,

Thank you once more for submitting your query regarding qualitative research conducted in Germany. We note that it may be useful to also inquire directly with a German national association such as the BVM or the ADM who may be able to add more precision to our response which reflects international practices rather than specific national circumstances which clearly apply in your questions. Nonetheless, we can provide the following responses to the query:

When recruiting participants for qualitative research, in order to ensure we recruit ethnically diverse groups, is it ok to ask participants their ethnicity, religion, gender identity when recruiting?

There are no laws or regulations (unlike, for example, France) that specifically reject the ability for market research to query respondents about ethnicity, religion, or gender identity when recruiting noting that all of these qualify as sensitive personal data under the General Data Protection Regulation and therefore will limit your options as regards legal bases and the conditions for processing and further processing of the personal data.

Can qualitative interviews be filmed for the purposes of bringing the research findings to life in a video that may be publicly used in the context of the research findings? (for example at a conference). We have no problem with this in any other European country given the right consents etc. are in place, but Germany appears to be different

The General Data Protection Regulation itself would likely permit this use case so long as consent is collected specifically authorising this by the data subject, as would the ICC/ESOMAR Code. However, the German Declaration on the ICC/ESOMAR Code is more stringent and would prevent the sharing of any identifiable data even for these purposes.

There are workarounds, which may unfortunately prove costly but would result in an anonymisation, for example:
- by blurring the people speaking,
- recording individuals from the shoulders down,
- changing their voice,
- employing actors to relay the verbatim of the respondents.

Is there a fixed time period after which recordings (audio and video) and photos of German respondents MUST be deleted, or is it – as elsewhere and per GDPR – dependent on the research need? If there is such a period defined in German law, can that time period be waived by gathering any type of consent from the participants?

The General Data Protection Regulation requires that you keep personal data for as long as it is required for the expressed purposes and the declared retention period. So indeed, legally it depends on the research, clearly if the research requires tracking trends over 20 years the retention period will be much longer and this use case is precisely why the GDPR allows more flexibility for research purposes. This applies across Europe and there isn't any specific elements that apply by the German implementation of the GDPR in in this regards.

However, German professional standards established by the national associations set a much more restrictive limit. According to the German "Guideline Concerning Recording and Observation of Group Discussions and Qualitative Interviews" (see: https://www.adm-ev.de/en/standards-guidelines/#anker2) there is the limit of three month after which recordings have to be destroyed.

We hope that these responses help you to progress your projects in Germany and apologies again for the delay in responding to your initial queries!

Sincerely,

The ESOMAR Professional Standards Team