Global Knowledge Base
This global knowledge base is still under development. Here are answers to some recurring questions from researchers in the data, research and insights community who are conducting or planning to conduct a cross-border project. Should your question not be featured here, go to ‘get help’ and ask us your question.
On specific country regulations
How can a researcher find out how the law applies to [issue] in a specific country?
As the global association for market, opinion and social research and data analytics, ESOMAR can provide a high-level overview on some of the laws regulating research in different countries. Further, we can give researchers advice on the ethical considerations concerning your issue.
However, we cannot provide detailed advice on the laws on each issue in all the different countries. For more detailed advice on a local law, you can contact the national association in that country. They may be able to provide more detailed information on the laws in their country. You can use this associations finder to find their contact details.
Please note that any guidance by ESOMAR or any of the national associations cannot replace legal advice. In case you are unsure whether or not what you intend to do is legal in a specific country, we recommend contacting a law firm.
Which questions and answers should be included in the questionnaire in order to determine the social class of
the interviewees in [country] (MIE occupation, education,..)
ESOMAR developed a Standard Demographic Classification report that was published in 1997 and covered 12 EU states. A regional classification system has also been developed for Latin-America in 2003 by TGI.
Please note that these systems were developed more than ten years ago and this means that the consumer durables would need to be updated and the system needs to be revised depending on the market being investigated.
The ESOMAR report describes the standard form of demographic classification which may be applied to international surveys to ensure that results were directly comparable from one country to the other. The system, designed for pan-European studies, could potentially be applied in other parts of the world, either as a standard or in a modified form. The questionnaire used at the time can also be found in this report. Please get in touch with ESOMAR to receive a copy.
The sub-variables on which the social grade is based:
- the occupation of the main income earner (MIE)
- the terminal education age of the main income earner
- the economic status of the household defined according to ownership of ten consumer durables (this is for non-active MIEs)
An attempt to develop a truly global system of socio-economic classification showed that there are many differences between the different regions in the world and harmonisation of these sub-variables was not possible.
A global classification system was developed by TGI which is based on individual class, rather than household class, by looking at individual spending power and based primarily on consumption variables.
A national or regional association may be able to help you with questionnaires for local economic classification. You can use this associations finder to find their contact details.
Are there circumstances where a researcher can pass on personal data to the client?
Personal information, such as names, specific geographic location, telephone number, picture, sound or video recording, or any other identifying information, cannot be passed on.
Following Article 6b of the ICC/ESOMAR International Code researchers must not share a data subject’s personal data with the client unless the data subject has given his or her consent to do so, and has agreed to the specific purpose for which the client will be using the personal data.
As long as the results are sufficiently anonymised and can no longer be linked back to a single individual, it will be possible to publish the results. Article 6d of the ICC/ESOMAR Code requires researchers to ensure that there is no way for the client, once in possession of the results, to link the respondent to his or her survey/research data. This may happen, for example, if the group of people taking the survey is so small that the answers can be attributable to specific individuals.
Is a researcher allowed to send personal data of an unhappy customer to their client?
Personal information, such as names, specific geographic location, telephone number, picture, sound or video recording, or any other identifying information, cannot be passed on.
According to Article 6a of the ICC/ESOMAR International Code a researcher may only pass on data to be used for a purpose other than research if the individual has agreed to this non-research use of the data, prior to the data collection, interview of survey. A non-research purpose or activity is any action targeted towards the individual with the intent to change their attitude, opinions or actions. Examples are sales approaches, targeted advertising or improving the clients’ relationship with or user experience of a specific customer.
Furthermore, ESOMAR has issued a guideline on performing Consumer Satisfaction Studies. This guideline states that when personal information is passed on to the client so they can respond to improve the customer satisfaction of this specific individual, it can no longer be called market research. It may be called a customer satisfaction study (CSS). When doing CSS instead of market research, it is important that the respondents are aware that their information will be passed on to the client and that their cooperation is entirely voluntary. Researchers are required to carry out the study in a transparent manner: respondents must be adequately informed about the nature of the project (who is conducting it, how the information will be used, etc.), and the researcher must ensure that they understand their cooperation is entirely voluntary, and agree to participate on this basis.
This means that the introduction would need to be along the lines of
"We are carrying out a customer satisfaction study on [...] for [client] who will be given your answers to improve your customer experience."
It is important that when approaching the respondent, the study is not called a market research, but a consumer satisfaction study on behalf of the client. More information on the distinction between MR and CSS can be found in on ESOMAR guideline Distinguishing market research from other data collection activitiesDistinguishing market research from other data collection activities.
It is important that when approaching the respondent, the study is not called a market research, but a consumer satisfaction study on behalf of the client. More information on the distinction between MR and CSS can be found in on ESOMAR guideline You can use this associations finder to find their contact details.
Is it okay for a researcher to pass personal information on to the legal department of
the client to ensure confidentiality of a new product or campaign?
Article 6b of the ICC/ESOMAR International Code applies in this case: researchers must not share a data subject’s personal data with the client unless the data subject has given his or her consent to do so, and has agreed to the specific purpose for which the client will be using the personal data.
It is essential that the agency has the data subject’s explicit consent to transfer their personal details to the legal team of the client for confidentiality purposes before the beginning of the test or survey. If the individuals have agreed that their details can be provided to the client on the understanding that the information will be used to deal with the confidentiality issue, this would be allowed under the ICC/ESOMAR International Code.
For the other responsibilities between the agency and the client, researchers are advised to also have a look at part nine of the ESOMAR Guideline on mutual rights and responsibilities of researchers and clients to determine which party is to take responsibility for delivery, storage and safety of the product and the respondents testing it, as well as the confidentiality clauses with the research company.
Last but not least, national laws may have set more stringent measures on such a transfer of personal data for which you may approach the national association in that country. They may be able to provide more detailed information on the laws in their country. You can use this associations finder to find their contact details.
Is it okay to pass on information on illegal activities to the authorities?
This is a delicate issue. The ICC/ESOMAR International Code and international guidelines f or market research prohibit the transfer of data that can potentially be used to identify a person or organisation. However researchers also have the responsibility to always behave ethically and to conform to all applicable national laws and local codes of conducts, professional standards or rules.
The purpose for which the data was collected is also important. Article 6a of the ICC/ESOMAR International Code holds that a researcher may only pass on data to be used for a purpose other than research if the individual has agreed to this non-research use of the data, prior to the data collection, interview of survey. Non-research use would include all enquiries which have the primary objective to obtain personally identifiable information about private individuals for legal or supervisory other purposes. See ESOMAR’s Guideline on Distinguishing Market Research From Other Data Collection Activities.
In any case, when a researcher would like to pass on identifiable information to the authorities, researchers are advised to obtain legal advice in relation to their responsibilities and protection under the original contract with the client. If a researcher were to hand over the names they could be in breach of data privacy legislation relating to the identities of those involved. It is essential that your agency establishes its legal responsibilities and safeguards under such legislation and under its original contract.
Are there restrictions for transferring personal data from [EU Country] to [country A]?
There are quite some restrictions on data transfers from EU countries to other countries. Answers to surveys are seen as personal data, as long as an individual can be identified from them.
There are a couple ways to transfer personal data on EU citizens to countries outside of the EU:
- The country has been approved by the EU to have sufficient data protections measures. However only a few countries, including Argentina, Canada and Switzerland, have so far met the standard. You can find the complete list on this website
- If the country does not offer an adequate level of protection, standard contractual clauses issued by the European Commission may be used. Please note, that these contractual clauses may not hold if they were to be challenged before the European Court of Justice. You can find the contractual clauses and more information on them here
- In case of the US, your company can participate in the EU-US Privacy Shield agreement. This is a procedure that allows US companies to comply with EU data protection rules. US companies that adhere and self-certify compliance to those principles, are allowed to transfer personal data from the EU to the US. Please note that the Privacy Shield follows the EU-US Safe Harbour Agreement, that was deemed by the European Court of Justice to not be enough protect the rights of European citizens in the US. This follow-up agreement is applicable now, but may still be challenged in the (near) future. You can find more information on the site of the European Commission and on this website of the US Department of Commerce.
Are there restrictions for transferring personal data from [Country A] to [country B]?
A transfer from country A to country B would be considered a trans-border transfer. It occurs when data are collected across national borders and/or when processing of data is outsourced to another country. For example when a client engages a researcher in a different country to carry out a study. Each country has its own set of rules and this may sem complex. Question 16 of ESOMAR’s Data Protection Checklist will provide you with more information on the three main issues when trying to ensure compliance with data protection rules internationally.
Further, you would be advised to check national legislation, some countries may have stricter rules about the sharing of respondent data than other countries. DLA PIPER’s Data Protection Laws Around The World might be a good resource to find out which data protection laws there are in Country A and Country B. For more detailed advice on a local law, you can contact the national association in that country. They may be able to provide more detailed information on the laws in their country. You can use this associations finder to find their contact details.
Country guideline is stating that the sample must reflect 85% or more of the population to be representative.
Is there any guideline similar to that that is well known internationally?
National associations may apply any local rules or guideline to ensure the quality of research undertaken in their country. There is no international ESOMAR or GRBN guideline that gives an exact number on when a sample can be seen as representative.
The ESOMAR/WAPOR Guideline on Opinion Polls and Published Surveys the draft ESOMAR/GRBN Guideline on Online Sample Quality and the ESOMAR 28 questions to help buyers of online samples will give you insights in the internationally applicable criteria of samples.
Are mini groups endorsed by any market research body and are they validated by the market research standards?
A mini-group is a focus group with fewer participants (usually 4-6) than the normal 8-12. And according to the Association for Qualitative Research in the UK, this could also mean a group that is shorter in duration than normal.
ESOMAR does not endorse or validate their use in general, as their suitability would depend on the type of topic, the importance of the decision to be reached, time available and the budget.
You might want to contact the Association for Qualitative Research in the UK, or the global Qualitative Research Consultants Association to see if they have any more specific views on this.
What market research methodologies are publishable in the [various countries] of this research?
There are no national standards for methodologies for survey results that can be published as this depends on the subject of the study and what would be regarded as 'fit for purpose'. This is underlined by the recently published ESOMAR WAPOR Guideline on Polls and Published Survey Results which requires transparency.
It also states:
"The two main characteristics of quantitative scientific surveys are that respondents are chosen according to explicit statistical sampling criteria to ensure representativeness, rather than being self-selected, and that questions are worded in a balanced way."
Researchers must therefore:
- Make clear whether a probability or a quota or other non-probability sample is used.
- Allow the client on request to arrange for checks on the quality of data collection and data preparation (see Article 8 of the ICC/ESOMAR International Code).
- Provide the client and research users with appropriate technical details of the research project carried out for the client and ensure that projects are designed, carried out, reported and documented accurately, transparently and objectively.
- Pay attention to the timing of the fieldwork, interviewer training, the size and method of sample selection and weighting of results.
The following section then includes methodological and practical considerations for the conduct of the most visible types of opinion polls and the various ways that data can be collected including face to face, phone interviewing, online polls and mixed mode.
There is still legal uncertainty surrounding the issue of consent for user
generated content in the digital space (social media) in relation to market research studies involving digital listening.
What are the international guidelines in this area?
We advise you to look at the ESOMAR Guideline on Social Media Research and the joint ESOMAR/GRBN Guideline on Online Research. This guidelines gives some practical advice on doing research on social media and online. Another useful resource is the paper on Big Data and Data Protection that the Information Commissioner’s Office in the UK has released.
When using groups in social media such as Facebook for collecting market research data, the first thing you would need to check is if this is allowed by the service’s terms as conditions. If consent has not been obtained (directly or under the T&C) researchers must ensure that they report only depersonalised data from social media sources. If researchers are using automated data collection services, they are recommended to use filters and controls to remove personal identifiers such as user names, photos, links to the user’s profile, etc. Where this is not possible or they are manually collecting data from websites, their analysis must only be with depersonalised data and no attempt should be made to identify people – see section 2.4 of the Social Media Research Guideline - or a discussion on when identifiable quotes can be potentially used.
What is the age of consent is in the following markets
Unfortunately, we do not have a list that gives the age of consent for specific countries. We advise you to contact a local association with this question. You can find to contact details on our website
Furthermore, we strongly recommend to review our guideline of Interviewing children and young people into account. This document gives you guidance on the requirement for children and young people taking part in research.
My client is concerned that Data Protection laws in Germany will prevent them sharing contact
names that they wish to be included in the research.
We plan on carrying out telephone calls with the high-level stakeholders that the client has identified by
name only (we have sourced contact details independently).
Are there any specific regulations on this?
It is the case that in Germany privacy laws are often stricter than other countries and as ESOMAR does not provide specific guidance on legal issues in specific countries, we would advise you to contact the German association on Market Research ADM which publishes a range of guidelines on the rules to follow. If you have any follow up questions please contact the ADM, you can find their contact details on their website
In B2B research when the respondent is asked a permission to share his/her
response with the client and he/she is made aware of the purpose of the research,
is it possible to share identified responses to the client?
Please note that whilst a B2B project involves collection of data from a legal entity, such research often involves collection about the entity such as revenue, sector and so forth and the participating company is entitled to the same level of protection from identity disclosure in reporting as those afforded individuals in other forms of research.
The following requirements need to be met in line with Article 6 of the ICC/ESOMAR International Code:
- The client must confirm that the data will only be used for market research purposes and that they will abide by the ICC/ESOMAR International Code on Market and Social Research.
- There is explicit consent from the respondents that their data will be shared with the client and for the specific purpose for which it will be used.
- In case the client wishes to use the data for non-research activities, such as direct sales approaches, or customer relationship management, consent needs to be obtained prior to data collection.
The respondent’s consent needs to be obtained during the first interview, giving the clients name.
Example: “Hello, I am from ABC market research and we are carrying out a survey on… for xyz who will be given your answers. The interview will take about … minutes and any answer you give me will only be used by xyz for market research. They will not try to sell you anything or collect any money as a result of you taking part in this survey”
An alternative is that the researcher must inform the respondent at the beginning of the interview that, at the end of the interview, he will be asking for his/her consent to pass his/her data to the client for other purposes than research. If he/she agrees to this, his/her contact details and answers to the survey will be passed to the client but that if he/she does not consent, the personal data will not be passed to the client but remain with your agency. Then, at the end of the interview, the researcher would ask for the consent to pass the data to the client and provide the client’s name and contact details, since the client would be the data controller.
Example: “Hello, I am from ABC market research and we are carrying out a survey on… At the end of the interview I am going to ask you if you agree to your contact details and answers to this surveys being passed to my client. If you agree, your data will be passed to my client, who will use it to [do non-research activity]. If you do not agree, your personal data will remain with my agency and any answers you give me will not be identifiable as coming from you.”
Please note that both examples assume that the interviewer will also identify themselves and provide respondent with information about how to contact the data controller if they need to.
We conducted a qualitative study, 20 B2B in depth interviews.
The respondents didn't accept to participate until we explained that their company identity is strictly
confidential and that the data is analyzed on total sample of similar companies.
The client argues that they do not need personal data of our respondents, only their companies' names.
Are there any international rules or guidelines that may restrict sending this data to the client?
It is important to note that if the sample is so small that the release of the company names will enable them to be identified, then even the names should not be released.
In the case of B2B research, either the data should be reported in a way which makes it impossible to identify the answers from specific companies, or the interviewer needs to get explicit consent from the respondent by telling them who the end client is and asking permission for the data to be passed on in an identifiable form.
As long as it is not possible to identify responses from individual respondents (eg in the form of quotes or figures which, although not attributed could clearly only have come from one organisation) it is legitimate to give the names of companies which were sampled.
Therefore, only in cases where the sample is large enough to guarantee anonymity might it be possible to give the names of the total sample, without giving the details on the sample segmentation.
We want to conduct a European online study and we want to apply a raffle in order to
improve participation rates. Is this allowed in [country/countries]?
There is no global overview on laws on prize draws in each country, and we cannot provide legal advice on specific country legislations on prize draws.
ESOMAR and GRBN have issued international guidance in their joint Guideline for Online Research. On page 14 you will find the points that should be taken into account in order to conform to international codes and guidelines.
For local regulations it is in general best to ask this at the association of the country. You can find the contact details of associations of the other countries on our website.
Alcohol and tobacco
Is it allowed to conduct research into [alcohol/tobacco] in [country]?
First of all, the basic considerations of the ICC/ESOMAR International Code should be observed. The researcher should take all reasonable steps to ensure that respondents are not harmed or adversely affected as a result of their participation.
- The ESOMAR guideline on Mutual rights and responsibilities of researchers and clients will provide you with guidance on responsibility. The researcher and the client should take into account the question of liability to the public for the disadvantageous consequences of using the product and ensuring that there is adequate and effective international liability insurance in place. While the client bears the main responsibility, the researcher does carry responsibility such as proper storage, delivery to respondents.
- The researcher must check if there are any specific laws and regulations relating to the sale and consumption of products in the countries in which the study will be conducted - eg. age restrictions.
- The researcher must avoid situations where respondents can share samples with friends.
- Non-[drinkers/smokers] must be filtered out of the study, to ensure that it is not regarded as an effort to recruit new drinkers to alcoholic drinks.
- Particular care should be taken with younger people. In some cases it is possible that family views might need to be taken into account, eg. in certain regions, or with younger women.
- Although ESOMAR does not have any specific product-testing guideline, it is quite possible that the MRS in the UK does: www.mrs.org.uk.
- And the main concern of whether this is acceptable both legally and socially is a key issue as according to our Code, researchers should not do anything to bring research into disrepute so in this type of situation it is advisable to err on the side of caution.
To find out about the local laws and guidelines on alcohol or tobacco research you may approach the national association in that country. They may be able to provide more detailed information on the subject. You can use this associations finder to find their contact details.
Is it allowed to send unsolicited e-mails to recruit respondents for research purposes?
Researchers need to verify that individuals contacted by e-mail have a reasonable expectation that they will receive a contact for research. This means that all of the following conditions must exist:
- A substantive pre-existing relationship exists between the individuals contacted and the research organisation, the client or the list owners providing sample for the research;
- Individuals have a reasonable expectation, based on the pre-existing relationship, that they may be contacted for research;
- Individuals are offered the choice to be removed from future electronic contact in each invitation in a clear and distinct way and this must be free of charge and easy to implement;
- The invitation list excludes all indinviduals who have previously taken the appropriate and timely steps to request the list owner to remove them;
For more details, check the ESOMAR/GRBN Online Research Guideline
Contracts between clients and researchers
Is there an international standard contract between client and research company?
As research studies can vary so widely, there is no internationally accepted standard contract. To help both clients and research providers, ESOMAR has issued a checklist of points to be considered including:
- Objectives of the research.
- Technical specifications of the study.
- Cost estimates.
- Other contractual issues.
For more details, check the ESOMAR Guideline on How to commission research - Reaching an agreement on marketing research project.
What if my client cancels a research project but I have already incurred costs in paying sub-contractors?
To avoid disputes, it is strongly recommended to have a clear written contract or terms of business agreed by both the client and the research provider. Such contract or terms of business should include terms relating to cancellation.
For more details on issues to cover in the contract go to the ESOMAR Guideline on the Mutual rights and responsibilities.
How long should a research company keep records?
In the absence of any agreement to the contrary, in the case of ad hoc surveys the normal period for primary field records (e.g. original completed questionnaires or similar basic records) should be retained for one year after completion of the fieldwork and three years for continuously reporting panels unless national law requires a shorter period.
To allow questions to be answered about how the research was conducted or about the results, including after the research project has been completed, the retention period of the following records shall be as follows, unless otherwise agreed with the client:
- primary records: 12 months
- a copy of all other final versions of documents related to the research project: 24 months
The research service provider shall inform the client about the retention periods. The research service provider and the client can agree on a longer or shorter retention period. This agreement shall be documented. If the research is later repeated, or further research is later carried out within the same project, the storage period shall be said to begin upon conclusion of the entire research project.
For more detail go to the ESOMAR Guideline on the Mutual rights and responsibilities and the ESOMAR Data Protection Checklist.
My client wants to observe a group discussion. Is this allowed?
Some clients may wish to observe an interview or group discussion for quality control purposes or to gain a better understanding of the research findings.
If so, the researcher must first obtain the agreement of the respondents concerned and also ensure that the observers are fully aware and abide by the ICC/ESOMAR International Code. The researcher should also ensure that the observers are not people who are likely to know or have a direct dealing with the individual respondents being interviewed. If they do, they should be asked to stop observing.
More detail may be found in the ESOMAR Guideline on Passive Data Collection, Observation and Recording.