The terms confidentiality and anonymity are often used interchangeably in the human world. However, both the concepts are related to the protection of the privacy of an individual. Confidentiality is the condition in which the true identity of a person is known to his confidante but is protected from being discovered by others. In this situation, the individual deciding to remain confidential signs an agreement which will protect his identity from being revealed. This narrative driven article will deep dive into specifics of confidentiality and anonymity.
Confidentiality during Research
Especially during researches conducted, the private information of the person is protected to ensure an informed response. Researchers have various tools to keep their subject’s confidentiality intact such as using password protected files. The information is encrypted if shared via internet and if there is a hard copy, the paperwork is kept locked for safety.
The subject matter discussed by an individual is also coded and not directly linked to him so that he cannot be identified by the provided information. Only the aggregate reports are revealed to the general public, as various combinations of information about the discussed subject may point to the individual who wishes to remain confidential.
Anonymity during Research
Anonymity is the condition in which even the researchers are unaware of the true identity of the individual. There is no documentation of consent signed in this case that could link the individual to the information provided. Generally the online surveys do not involve any consensus documentation signed as the risk to the survey is minimal. While doing researches and surveys, it is very important to distinguish between both the concepts of confidentiality and anonymity, as there are legal documents involved in one of the procedures.
Confidentiality Vs Anonymity
A study that is conducted by only one data collection method cannot be both anonymous and confidential at the same time. The participants taking part in the research are usually informed of the type of data collection process being adopted for that particular survey. All the information with regards to how long will the research materials are stored, where will they be stored for safe keeping and after how long will it be destroyed is given to the participant before the beginning of the survey.
Anonymous data collection process holds up the identity of the participant even from the researchers. Even when online surveys are conducted anonymously, it is important that the researchers make sure that even the IP address of the participant is not stored. The type of research also should be conducted in such a way that the demographic variables do not reveal the true identity of the participant in some way.
Protection of Data
The participants of a research should be well informed of how their identity will be kept anonymous by the researchers. Under no circumstances there should be any indications that will identify the participant. Moreover, usually the anonymously collected data is discussed at a group level rather than an individual one.
On the other hand, when data is collected confidentially the identity of the participant is known to the researcher but not to the general public. Generally the confidentially involved participants are given numbers or codes used by the researchers only. These codes are not revealed while presenting the results of the analysis.
Securing People’s Identity
During a confidential survey, it is very important that the survey is conducted in a secured environment, as the participants are at a greater risk to be identified. Usually face to face surveys are conducted in confidentiality, as the identity of the participant has to be revealed to the researcher to collect the data.
While in an anonymous survey, the researchers are strictly barred from collecting any personally identifying information from the participants. Personally identifying information includes age, gender, ethnicity, names, addresses, email addresses, phone numbers, photographs, IP addresses or government issued ID numbers. Virtual or face to face interviews also do not fall under the category of an anonymous survey.
If the researcher is under the possession of the participant’s information such as the Email address or the IP address, that data cannot be termed as anonymous. This may result in a breach and the participants may be willing to withdraw their responses from the survey. If the personal identifying factor is avoided, the survey remains anonymous.
On the other hand, a confidential survey involves the involvement of the participant with the researcher but his true identity is not revealed to anyone outside. With the help of data management and security tools, confidentiality of the participant can be easily maintained by the research group.
The personally identifiable information of the participants should be saved separately from the data that will be used for the survey analysis. In order to collect data in a confidential or an anonymous manner, inform the participants of how their data will be protected and get a consent form signed by them.