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American Population Panel Advancing Science for the Common Good

Ask Dr. Cooksey

Question: What personal information is seen by CHRR staff members? Can they report to governmental agencies about my health, finances, etc.? I have a right to protect my personal data.

Answer: None of the information that you provide to us on various surveys is linked to the personal information you give us when you join the panel. All information such as your name, address, email, phone number etc. is called PII (personally identifying information) and this is not stored with the information you provide when you answer any of our surveys. When you take a survey, you are provided with a unique ID number. This is what we use to match the fact that you took the survey to our list of people who should either be entered into the raffle (for quick surveys), or paid the fixed amount you are owed for finishing longer surveys. A list of all IDs that match people who complete is given to our accounting staff member who makes sure that you are paid or put into the raffle. She does not have access to answers from your survey, however. The researcher who designed the survey gets data from everyone who answers that survey but with NO identifying information - only the survey answers.

The only time that your specific survey answers would be put together with any kind of PII is if it looks as if someone has tried to fraudulently answer the survey. So, for example, we might get 5+ people answering the survey within a short amount of time, and the answers to their survey questions are identical. This would make us suspicious that one person had tried to answer multiple times to get paid more money. In this case, one of our "data detectives" would be provided with the respondent IDs only (not their survey answers), and these potentially fraudulent IDs would be checked against whatever PII we have for them. If we have email addresses, we then send emails to those respondents asking them to provide other pieces of information to us to prove that they are who they say they are. If they never reply, or the data they provide doesn't match with the data in our secure records, then we drop those individuals from the panel.

So that was probably a longer answer than you wanted! The short answer is that your personally identifying information is kept in one secure location, and your survey answers are kept in another. People who need to access one or the other sets of information can therefore do so without matching up the two. There are only a couple of very senior people at CHRR who could potentially link the two but they a) have been working at CHRR with secure data for many years and are highly trusted senior staff wmembers b) have to take new and updated training on security protocols every year, and c) would face VERY serious consequences should they ever not protect your personal data. We are not allowed to report any of the information that you provide about your health, finances or other sensitive information to any governmental agency and the security systems that we have in place are at a very high level.

CHRR has been in existence for 55 years and we have kept data from millions of people safe and secure during all those years. Our reputation depends on it!


Question: I recently took one of your COVID-19 surveys and I was entered into a raffle for a gift card. Why are you not paying every APP member for their answers to this survey?

Answer: The most expensive part of any survey effort is recruiting participants, like you, to a study. We charge researchers to use the panel, but most of what we charge we pass along to survey respondents for answering the survey questions. If you think about a study that takes an average of 15 minutes to complete and the researcher wants 5000 respondents, the amount we would pay out in incentives at $10 per respondent would equal $50,000.

Each researcher who wants to use the APP for their research must therefore try and raise enough money to pay you, the respondent, as well as CHRR staff for the work that we put into helping design their study, programing their survey, sending out survey requests to eligible APP members, reminding you all to take the survey(!), and then paying you and keeping accounts of all payments.

CHRR has been funding the COVID-19 surveys ourselves because we have been unable to get any outside sponsorship funding to help us do so – but with no sponsorship we cannot pay each respondent for your time. We have, however, increased the number of gift cards we are giving out. We are still searching for money to help with future rounds of CHRR’s COVID-19 survey but money is tight for everyone, including funding agencies and private sponsors.

We believe that this is a time when it is vitally important to ask people about their views, behaviors, beliefs and hopes for the future, and that APP respondents are a great set of people to ask to share that kind of information. You live in all 50 States and DC, you are from all different backgrounds, you hold different religious and political views, some of you are young and can't remember 911, others of you know where you were when JFK was shot and remember the first moon walk. Some of you are Veterans, teachers, farmers, health care workers. Others are self-employed as plumbers, consultants, or have Etsy businesses. Some of you are looking after small children as parents or grandparents. Together you make up American Life!

We are grateful to all our APP members and the time you give us with your thoughtful answers to the questions that we ask you. We are especially grateful to everyone who has responded to our COVID-19 surveys, not for payment, but to share your thoughts with us in this very different time we are all living through.


Question: We've received concern from panel members about the Facebook data breach regarding Cambridge Analytica.

Answer: Like you, I am horrified by the news of Cambridge Analytica’s actions. I can assure you that we have nothing to do with them. Information you have provided to us as a panel member is stored on very high security servers here at The Ohio State University, and is not available to anyone at Facebook or elsewhere.

Confidentiality and security of information that is shared with us by individuals like yourself is of the utmost importance to us. We will NEVER release any identifying information about you to anyone outside of CHRR. Further, only a very few individuals within our research organization have access to your information. Those who do have sworn to keep your information private at all times.

Whenever a research study wishes to use panel members, the study has to first be scrutinized by members of the Ohio State’s Institutional Review Board and this is one of the many steps that sets us apart from commercial survey organizations. The American Population Panel is also overseen by this Board to ensure that we are both building the panel, and using the data only for projects that panel members have agreed to. We are NOT a marketing company, but a research center within the University.

I hope this helps to overcome any fears you might have about us and the manner in which we both store and use the information we collect. CHRR has been in existence for more than 50 years and we continue to work diligently to ensure that all personal data we keep will remain secure. We will never sell your information to any entity, and it will only be used to identify you as a potential respondent for bona fide research studies that CHRR undertakes.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you still have concerns.

PDF of letter


Question: Why have I not heard from you since I signed up to be a part of the American Population Panel?

Answer: The American Population Panel is NOT used for marketing purposes. It is designed for RESEARCH studies.

    Here are some differences:
  1. The APP will only ask you for information if the data we have already collected from you suggests you will be a match for the research survey. For example, we might have a study that needs to ask questions of mothers between the ages of 30 and 50 living in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. If you are female, between 30 and 50 years of age and living in any of these three states we would contact you to see if you have children. If you do, then you would be eligible to be part of the study and we would ask if you wanted to participate. We would NOT contact you at all if you are male, live in any of the other 47 US States or are below the age of 30 or above the age of 50.

    Many marketing panels will ask you to give them the same information you have given them many times before to see if you are eligible for a study. It is frustrating to have to answer multiple questions before finding out you are not eligible!

  2. As we build the panel and studies find it more and more useful to use, we expect the number of surveys we ask if you are interested in will increase. However, we will still contact you relatively rarely in comparison to marketing survey groups.

  3. APP research surveys will generally be longer than marketing surveys. This is because they will be used for research analyses that require many pieces of information to be analyzed together. Marketing surveys are often just trying to get an opinion on one or two ideas or find out about particular behaviors like your shopping habits. We are very unlikely to be interested in your shopping habits!

  4. Companies who pay for marketing surveys have money to pay for those surveys and the surveying marketing companies are businesses who need to cover their costs or make a profit. CHRR is a research center at The Ohio State University. We, and all the researchers who come to us with survey projects, are paying to start the panel up, design the surveys, and pay you as survey respondents. Many academic survey research projects are done on a very tight budget and one purpose of the APP is to help researchers get their projects up and running more inexpensively than if they had to recruit people like you themselves.

    We value your time and we will reward you for surveys you take and the time that you give us. Sometimes this will be in the form of money or a gift card, and at other times this may be via a drawing for prizes - the exact payment will depend on the research study.

  5. Sometimes we will ask you for quick feedback on just a few questions. This is similar to some marketing surveys. For this kind of request we are more likely to enter you into a drawing for a prize. For an example, a psychologist might want to try out a few questions to measure something like "happiness" or "trust", or a political scientist might want to get your feedback concerning a political event or topical issue. These types of requests are likely to take you very little time but the kinds of information we will be asking you for is likely to differ from the kinds of information marketers want to know about.
Dr. Elizabeth Cooksey's head shot

Dr. Elizabeth Cooksey, Professor of Sociology and Director, CHRR at The Ohio State University

Do you have a question for Dr. Cooksey? If so, email us at: panel@appanel.org