Terms and Conditions

Terms and Conditions for Researchers (Account Holders)

1. Purpose

The general mission of SurveySignal is to facilitate smartphone research in the behavioral sciences and beyond. SurveySignal provides a combination of text messaging, scheduling, and study management features that make smartphone experience sampling and other mobile survey applications easy to conduct. In addition, SurveySignal facilitates contacts between smartphone users interested in research participation and researchers running studies via SurveySignal.

The purpose of SurveySignal is entirely research based. Participant information may never be used by private parties, including account holders, other than recruiting and surveying participants for research. SurveySignal is not responsible for, and disclaims all liability for damages of any kind arising out of the misuse of a SurveySignal account.

The term "researcher" as used below applies to the holder for a given SurveySignal account as well as all members of the research team with access to the account such as co-investigators, study administrators, and research assistants. It is the sole responsibility of the account holder (i.e., the individual who creates the account) to ensure that all members of the research team have read and understood our terms and conditions and are familiar with the operating principles of SurveySignal as described in the SurveySignal User Manual posted on SurveySignal's help page. Any violations by the research team associated with the account holder will be under the account holder's responsibility.

2. Waiver of Liability

Even though SurveySignal strives to ensure the highest quality service, rare events beyond SurveySignals's control (including, but not limited to, third party providers, natural disasters, cable cuts, and so forth) may occasionally happen and cause server downtimes or signal delivery failures of our SMS gateway. In case of such rare events, SurveySignal will do everything possible to restore service as soon as possible. SurveySignal will not bill for missed signals due to technical problems caused by events beyond the researcher's and SurveySignal's control. At the same time, SurveySignal will not be held responsible for any damage, permanently lost data, missed deadlines, inconvenience, loss, expense, or grief which might be caused to the account holder due to events beyond SurveySignal's control.

3. Researcher Responsibilities

By agreeing to our terms and conditions, researchers subscribe to the basic ethical principles of human subjects research as reflected in the APA Ethical Principles of Psychologists and the Belmont Report:

  • Respect for Persons: Individuals should be treated as autonomous agents who can make informed decisions to become or refuse to become participants in research.
  • Beneficence: Researchers are obligated to secure the well-being of human subjects, maximizing possible benefits from their participation in research and minimizing harm.
  • Justice: The burdens of being a research participant and the benefits of the research should be fairly distributed.

Specifically, the researcher's commitment to ethical research practices includes, but are not limited to, the following responsibilities:

3.1 Seeking Informed Consent

When conducting research on human subjects, researchers are required to inform potential participants about:

  • The purpose of the research, expected duration and procedures,
  • Participants' rights to decline to participate and to withdraw from the research once it has started, as well as the anticipated consequences of doing so,
  • Reasonably foreseeable factors that may influence their willingness to participate, such as potential risks, discomfort or adverse effects,
  • Prospective research benefits,
  • Limits of confidentiality, such as data coding, disposal, sharing and archiving, and when confidentiality must be broken,
  • Incentives for participation (e.g., compensation, feedback of results etc.),
  • Who participants can contact with questions (ideally an Email address checked regularly by the study research team),

and to seek informed consent after participants had had ample time to view and evaluate this information.

Within the SurveySignal architecture, informed consent can in principle be gathered either before, during, or after the phone registration process (study signup page). SurveySignal provides the option to display consent information during the registration process (opt-in). SurveySignal strongly recommends the use of the study signup page for seeking informed consent, although special study designs may require different solutions.

Most centrally, it is the researcher’s sole responsibility to ensure that appropriate informed consent information and procedures are applied and that, insitutional approval (e.g., through an appropriate Instituational Review Board or Ethics Board) is sought before data collection on participants begins. SurveySignal will not be held accountable for unapproved use or misuse of our services.

3.2 Protecting Confidentiality of Participant Data

Researchers may not — under any circumstances — sell, rent, distribute or give away paricipant phone numbers, email addresses, or any other personal information gathered through SurveySignal to ANY third party Such a disclosure will result in an immediately termination of service without refund as well as informing account holders and appropriate Institutional authorities of such a breach in confidentiality. SurveySignal has a zero tolerance policy for such misuse of our services and will pursue appropriate legal action if necessary.

3.2.1 Participant Survey Response Data: Because participants only provide survey response data once they have been directed to the respective survey site in Qualtrics, Surveymonkey, SurbeyGizmo etc., SurveySignal does not have access to participants’ survey response data. This data will be stored on the server of the researcher’s survey software application. Therefore, the data policies of the researcher’s respective survey software apply. It is thus the sole responsibility of the researcher to take adequate measures to ensure the confidentiality of the collected survey response data. Such measures may include, but are not limited to, (a) restricting access to the data to members of the research team through password-protection, (b) stripping response data off identifying information, and (c) destroying sensitive data not needed for further data analysis after the data collection is finished. SurveySignal will not be held accountable for breaches in confidentiality related to mismanagement of survey response data. In case additional response data beyond regular survey sites will be obtained (for example through, but not limited to, additional smartphone applications) additional and explicit informed consent will be obtained from the participant.

3.2.2 Participant Panel Data: SurveySignal registers and verifies participants who sign up for a given study project. These participants form the panel for a given study. SurveySignal provides a number of tools that enable the researcher to manage this panel information, such as the ability to deactivate and delete participants from a study, and to resend verification messages to individual participants. SurveySignal will decrypt individual phone numbers in the study panel to researchers. Researchers can, upon requesting information from the participant, correct phone numbers in their own study panel when necessary.

Researchers are required to treat participants’ data with utmost care, to prevent unauthorized access to it, and to delete any sensitive information after data collection for a given project is finished. Moreover, researchers will not use the above-mentioned tools without having considered their consequences carefully by consulting the User Manual. For instance, changing a participant phone number to a random number in order to “deactivate” that participant (rather than using the “deactivate” button) may result in SPAM text messages sent to uninvolved third parties. It is the sole responsibility of the researcher to understand the potential ramifications of their actions while using SurveySignal tools. Frequent misuse due to technical misunderstandings may therefore also result in termination of the account.

3.3 Compensation and Debriefing We encourage researchers to provide adequate compensation for participation. Compensation can take on many different forms, though, and need not be restricted to monetary compensation.

3.4 Participant Study Termination

Participation in scientific research is voluntary. Participants must be given the option of leaving a study project at any time by contacting the researcher/study administrator. It is the researcher’s responsibility to provide a contact (e.g., e-mail address) in the informed consent document. It is the sole responsibility of the researcher to manage participant inclusion or exclusion within any given study. We recommend that researchers spell out the rules for (partial) compensation clearly in order to avoid possible disputes. For instance, for many experience sampling projects, providing a base compensation (e.g., for screening and intake surveys) plus an additional compensation for responding to a certain number of signals appears to be an accepted and fair solution to handle drop-out cases.

3.5 Awareness of Responsibilities and Penalties for Researcher Noncompliance with Ethical Principles

In SurveySignal’s experience, conducting smartphone research is often no more difficult than conducting other types of survey research. However, smartphone studies can be challenging and confront researchers with novel problems, some of which may take on an ethical dimension. It is beyond SurveySignal’s capacity to constantly monitor whether researchers conform to the above principles and expectations, although random checks will be performed and participants are encouraged to notify us of possible breaches of ethical conduct. By agreeing to our terms of service, researchers certify they are aware of their responsibility in contributing in positive ways to the growing popularity of smartphone research among participant populations and panel members, the scientific community, and the general public. When in doubt, we recommend getting in contact with researcher’s Internal Review Board proactively, as violations of ethical standards may incur serious consequences for the success of study projects or even a researcher’s scientific career. If SurveySignal has reason to assume serious violations of ethical conduct, SurveySignal will first attempt to get in contact with the respective researcher in search of a solution. In case such resolution attempts are unsuccessful, SurveySignal reserves the right to disable the researcher’s account and notify his or her Internal Review Board/Institution about any violations.

4. Privacy Policy and Data Protection through SurveySignal

4.1 Researchers’ Personal Account Information

We will not sell, rent, distribute or give away the researcher’s email address or any other personal information to ANY third party. We will not publish your email address, phone, or mailing address at any time. The only exception of providing specific third parties (i.e., an Institutional Review Board/researcher’s institution) with researchers’ information is in the case of a serious violation of our terms and conditions.

4.2 Researcher's data

4.2.1 User data: SurveySignal will protect researchers’ survey parameter data, reports, signal logs, and all other information by keeping servers up-to-date and internal data security high. The data belonging to researchers’ SurveySignal account will never be sold, rented, or distributed.

4.2.2 Techincal Data: SurveySignal collects a limited number of technical data (e.g., summary response delay and response rate data to signals) that will be accessible to researchers for data monitoring purposes (see User Manual). SurveySignal does reserve the right to publish technical data in aggregated form (i.e., averaged across user accounts) for technical research publications or marketing purposes. For instance, SurveySignal may publish an article in a research methods oriented outlet to describe the average response rate achieved by employing text sms, and sms reminder functionality. Researchers’ individual data will never be identified in such cases without explicit consent from the researcher.

4.2.3 Panel Data: SurveySignal registers and verifies participants who sign-up for a given study project. SurveySignal proactively protects these panel data by keeping our servers up-to-date and our internal data security high. SurveySignal will not sell, rent, or distribute participant email, phone, or other personal information to ANY third party under any circumstance. SurveySignal reserves the right to contact participants via e-mail after a given survey project is finished for feedback and to invite them to participate in additional research by signing up to the SurveySignal Smartphone Panel. Panel members will be occasionally invited through SurveySignal to participate in ongoing smartphone research hosted on SurveySignal. Participants can unsubscribe from the Smartphone Panel at any time by clicking on a link.

5. Access to data

5.1 Researcher access to data

All account holders in good standing (i.e., complying with our terms and conditions) will always have access to their data except in case of possible server downtime. SurveySignal reserves the right to decline access to data in case of serious violations of our terms and conditions.

5.2 Staff access to account holders’ data

Only administrators and customer/technical support managers have access to researchers’ account data. SurveySignal’s support team will not grant access to third parties or otherwise disseminate researchers’ account data. If researchers contact SurveySignal support or hire SurveySignal’s programming services for special purposes, an administrator (or support manager) may log into researchers’ account for the sole purpose of troubleshooting or for performing a specific contracted task.

6. Requests to Permanently Remove Researcher's Account and Data

A written request to permanently remove researchers’ account and all user data from SurveySignal’s service will be answered in no more than 3 business days. SurveySignal will reply with written confirmation that all created surveys, panel information, and response time information has been destroyed. Data cannot be recovered after this action is performed.

7. These Terms and Conditions May Change

SurveySignal reserves the right to update or amend these terms and conditions at any time without prior notice. Researchers’ use of SurveySignal’s services following any such change constitutes researchers’ agreement to follow and be bound by the terms and conditions as changed. For this reason, SurveySignal encourages researchers to review terms and conditions periodically.