Earlier this month, a number of market research leaders “converged” In sunny Los Angeles at the Insights Association’s CONVERGE conference. CONVERGE focused on uncovering newly valuable insights by bridging traditional market research, data science, and advanced analytics. By bringing together innovators from across the insights ecosystem, the conference included a peak into groundbreaking data integrations at leading brands such as Microsoft, Pinterest, Disney and Whirlpool, as well as sessions covering important industry challenges and predictions.

While many hot topics graced the agenda at the event, one of the hottest was blockchain. The last 12 months have seen the emergence of blockchain within the market research industry: it has become an area of debate surrounding the opportunity and influence of the technology and how it applies to the industry. Blockchain is seen by some as one of the brightest technology innovations on the horizon, promising a data management revolution to adoptees and an attendant sea change in control and quality. Others fail to understand its significance and practical applications, and thus blockchain has spurred some hot debates.

CONVERGE was no different. I was lucky enough to speak on a panel at the conference, alongside Isaac Rogers of 20/20 Research and Ted Waz of The Opinion Economy, entitled “Data integrity and the blockchain opportunity.” We took a deep dive into data integrity and the blockchain opportunity - its potential and pitfalls - with the help of our moderator, Karen Morgan of Morgan Search International. The topic was of such interest to our audience that we went over our allotted time on the agenda. Questions from attendees were fast and furious and we were happy to spend the time shedding light on how blockchain is poised to shift the way we approach consumer research.

With the advent of GDPR and its sweeping impacts on the market research space, people are looking to blockchain to solve some problems surrounding consumer data use. But first, they wanted to understand the technology at a fundamental level. To answer the moderator’s first question, I described blockchain as “a slow and expensive database, that no one owns, but everyone has access to, and while you can add data to it, you can’t change it easily. Blockchain has a number of limitations, but it has one super power, that is the ability to coordinate trust. Taking this at face value, if we can increment towards building trust within our ecosystem, everything trickles down from that.”

As we dove into the GDPR impacts, we acknowledged that discussions surrounding blockchain, privacy, and transparency can often be confusing. To be clear, there is no such thing as a GDPR-compliant blockchain, there are only GDPR-compliant applications. In fact, if anyone says they are putting user data or survey data on a blockchain, it should raise real concerns. The way that blockchain can truly make an impact when it comes to GDPR is by shifting the power and ownership of data to the consumer. What if all consumer data were stored and encrypted on their own device, with their own full authority for deletion and access? Using techniques such as zero knowledge proofs and cryptographic commitment schemes we can ensure that data is consistent and is not unnecessarily revealed, and using a digital signature as a proof of existence, we can start to realize this shift to consumer control. These techniques are gaining popularity and evolving quickly, partly due to the rise of blockchain.

One of the key reasons that our session was extended surrounded audience concerns about language associated with blockchain that causes fear or fear mongering. The industry has seen a few instances where new companies or technologies come along and say they will disrupt the entire industry and subsequently fall short. Many are afraid that blockchain will have the same results and are hesitant to support the technology. In truth, blockchain is an important part of moving our industry toward transparency, improving data quality, and boosting consumer research participation.

It is by continuing to discuss blockchain in forums like the CONVERGE conference that we can start to educate and dispel myths surrounding the technology, as well as illustrate the positive impacts that it can have on the market research industry.