A recent survey found on the travel site Aeroplan offended users by asking a slew of controversial and invasive questions.
According to CBC News, the survey asked people their level of agreement or disagreement on statements suggesting that men were superior, traditional marriage was the only way to form a family, and asserting that immigration “threatens the purity of the country.”
Aimia, Aeroplan’s parent company, said they hired a market research firm to create the survey, which was intended to help the company make improvements to its loyalty program. Alas, Aimia admits that it did not thoroughly or properly review the survey before sending it out to its members.
The offensive nature of the questionnaire was brought to light by Lacey Willmott, who filed a complaint with Aeroplan after taking the survey last week.
"I was alarmed and extremely concerned," said Willmott, a geography student working toward her doctorate degree at the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario.
She received an email from Aeroplan offering her 100 bonus miles to take a “shopping and life habits” survey. However, while the 80-question survey asked about members’ thoughts on shopping and brands, disturbing personal questions were slipped in.
"I thought, 'Wow, this is really problematic,'" said Willmott, who added that she was confused about what the questions had to do with the company’s rewards program.
The questions gave the option to “Totally disagree” with each statement, but the fact that they were tinged with racism, sexism, and xenophobia was still troubling to Willmott, who said she was “horrified” by the question that asserted immigration threatens Canada’s “purity.”’
Willmott was not the only person taken aback by the questions. After her story broke, many Twitter users shared her sentiments.
Aeroplan said it "should have taken a closer look at the questionnaire before distributing it". Well, duh. https://t.co/fBwHX5RM3y— Berg's Bites 🇨🇦 (@adrianberg) April 2, 2018
Seriously. What do these Qs want to accomplish for a "shopping & life habits" survey? https://t.co/TBJzrXa3ic— Mandy Luk (@mandylukcbc) April 2, 2018
Language IS important. How questions are asked can often shape answers but more damaging - shape people’s perspectives. Did you ask about households with parents sharing responsibility? About how our society is made more prosperous by welcoming people from other countries?— Mike Layton (@m_layton) April 2, 2018
@Aeroplan incompetence to review their own survey is inexcusable. #CROP clear agenda on manipulating this survey to amplify anti-immigration views is terrifying.— Javier Lozano (@lozanojavier) April 2, 2018
Marketing research must be transparent by design otherwise is cheap propaganda. https://t.co/gwbHPUItXh
Wow, you folks are just working double-time to set history as far back as possible, eh?! They are not bold questions, they are a means to further entrench male chauvinism, a family paradigm which is riddled with abuse & malign and racism. @Aeroplan #cbc https://t.co/XtvkQfJ1eS— Gary Bourque (@ApeBeta) April 2, 2018
Suggest you tighten your procedures and vet your contractors. As a multi-decade Aeroplan member I find the insensitivity and lack of awareness demonstrated by the questions in this survey to be surprising from a Canadian company. #aeroplan— Doogie Bliss (@DoogieBliss) April 2, 2018
Willmott also raised concerns about how the sensitive data from the survey would be used. On the heels of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, she said she was worried that Aeroplan may have been collecting the information for some purpose other than adjusting the rewards program.
However, the market research firm responsible for the survey, CROP, confirmed that the data was being collected exclusively for Aeroplan and that the company was trying to gauge the attitudes and values of its members in an effort to better serve them.
Alain Giguere, CROP’s president, said he included the questions to help Aeroplan understand its members’ views.
"Are we dealing with modern people or are we dealing with very traditional people," he said. "The goal of it is really to understand all the sensitivities of your audience."
However, Giguere said he’s been asking questions of this nature in market research surveys for decades, including just last year in a poll on populism and xenophobia for CBC’s Radio-Canada.
He also noted that if any of the questions offends a survey taker, they can simply oppose it.
"You just have to disagree and we will know that you are a modern person," he said. "This is a very scientific process."
Despite Giguere’s defense of his provocative line of questioning, Aimia has issued an apology to its Aeroplan members and vowed to delete the data collected from the survey.
We apologize for any offense caused by the questions in this survey. It does not reflect our values as a company and we will be deleting all data gathered from it.— Aeroplan (@Aeroplan) April 2, 2018
"I was surprised by the questions myself," said Aimia spokesperson Cheryl Kim in an email. "After looking into it, there are aspects of the survey that don't meet the standards we hold ourselves to in terms of the kind of information we gather."
Although Aimia and Aeroplan have pledged to be more diligent going forward, it's frustrating that this slipped through the cracks in the first place. There should always be a careful and extensive review process when collecting personal data from people, and the purpose for gathering said data should be made transparent.
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