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The JCU IRB has the following suggestions for setting up online surveys when a breach of privacy might cause harm:

  • The survey should be posted on a host site (e.g., Qualtrics) that uses SSL Technology to encrypt responses. Note that John Carroll has an institutional subscription to Qualtrics; contact Jay Tarby for more information.
  • Neither IP addresses nor emails should be automatically collected by the site.
  • Identifiers on the survey should be minimized and limited to only what is necessary to the study.
  • If participants are invited to enter a lottery or raffle at the conclusion of their participation, email addresses should be collected and maintained separately from survey responses.
  • The informed consent page should include this language:  “There are risks to participating in Internet-based research with regard to potential breaches of privacy or anonymity. Be aware that some companies monitor employee internet usage.  Please be sure to close your internet browser once you have finished the survey to protect your privacy.  In addition, you can further safeguard your privacy by deleting the webpage history from your browser after closing the survey link.”

Informed Consent (updated January 2017)

Participants in an online survey are unable to provide a written signature on an informed consent document. Instead, the landing page of the survey should provide all of the information necessary for a participant to make an informed decision whether or not to participate in the study. Researchers may use this Online Survey Info Page Template as a guide to writing this landing page.

Because participation is voluntary, the participants must be given the option to leave the survey. At the bottom of the landing page, the participant should be asked to answer “Yes, I agree to participate in the study” or “No, I do not wish to participate.”  The submit button will forward the page to the start of the survey or will exit the survey.

A waiver of signed consent should be requested in Section 8.d.(ii) of the IRB Application.

Minimizing Risk

In order to make each question of an online survey voluntary, the IRB may insist that surveys do not have questions with required responses so that the participant is permitted to skip answering any question. An alternate method would be to require a response but list “I choose not to answer” as one of the possible answers.

For more information on conducting ethical online research, see “Internet Research Ethics” and “Online Surveys: Ethical Issues and ‘Netiquette’.”