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Case study: Privacy and data protection at Safecount

Safecount is a WPP online research agency, headquartered in the US and operating in Asia, Europe and North America. As well as reaching high standards of data protection it has made online privacy and consumer education a distinguishing feature of its products and services.

Safecount works with market research companies, advertisers, online publishers and media companies to assess the effectiveness of online advertising. Its services include hosting online surveys, recruiting survey participants and analysing the results.

Research suggests that consumers are more likely to participate in online surveys if they know how the information they provide will be used and are confident that their privacy will be respected. This makes privacy a key business issue for Safecount.

The agency has created a number of tools to provide greater transparency and give consumers more control. In particular by providing information on cookies and by helping to protect consumers from receiving too many survey invitations.

(A cookie is a small text file that is sent to a user’s computer when they visit a website or view an online ad. Cookies, for example, can be used to store information that’s recalled on subsequent visits to a site. Cookies play a key role in online advertising by enabling advertisers to track the number of people viewing their ads. They also enable researchers to differentiate between users who have seen a specific online ad from those who have not. The views of the two groups can then be compared to assess the effectiveness of the ads.)

Privacy tools developed by Safecount include:

  • which provides information for consumers on how cookies work, when and why they are used and the kind of information that is collected via cookies.
  • The Safecount cookie-viewer tool. This enables users to find out how many times they have seen a Safecount-tracked ad and what information the relevant cookies contain. The agency raises awareness of the tool through its own marketing and involvement with industry organisations and regulatory bodies.
  • Opt-out function. Consumers can choose not to be invited to participate in Safecount market research surveys and not to be tracked by Safecount cookies.
  • A free telephone helpline for consumers to learn more about privacy issues and register questions, comments or complaints.
  • Veranda, a new tool that will improve coordination between different market research companies. Veranda will help prevent consumers being invited to participate in surveys by multiple agencies.

Safecount has a senior privacy officer who is responsible for ensuring that privacy is taken into account in all business development decisions and during the creation of new products and services. The agency’s privacy credentials are used as a key component of new business pitches and regularly updated data protection training is provided for employees.

Safecount also encourages high privacy standards across the industry through its engagement with industry organisations and government initiatives. For example, the agency is a member of the Network Advertising Initiative, which has developed voluntary principles for online companies.