Aeroplan is deleting all data collected from a recent online survey and offering an apology to anyone who found it offensive, after it sparked a complaint from one of its members.
The survey included controversial questions that asserted immigration was harmful, suggested males were superior and that traditional marriage was the only way to form a family.
Aeroplan’s owner, Aimia, hired a market research company to create the survey intended to help the company improve its loyalty program. However, Aimia says it failed to properly review the questionnaire before distributing it to members this month.
Some of the more than 80 questions probed members’ thoughts on shopping and brands. But others asked their level of agreement or disagreement on provocative statements such as:
- Overall, there is too much immigration. It threatens the purity of the country.
- Getting married and having children is the only real way of having a family.
- The father of the family must be master in his own house.
- Whatever people say, men have a certain natural superiority over women, and nothing can change this.
‘I was alarmed’
The contentious questions offended Lacey Willmott, who complained to Aeroplan after taking the survey last week.
“I was alarmed and extremely concerned,” said the PhD geography student at the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ont.
In an email, Aeroplan offered her 100 bonus miles to take a “shopping and life habits” survey. It said the results would only be used to help enhance the program.
So she was shocked when she encountered questions on hot-button topics such as gay marriage, government’s role in society and family values.
“I thought, ‘Wow, this is really problematic,'” said Willmott, who wondered what the questions had to do with Aeroplan’s rewards program.
She could opt to “totally disagree” to any statement she didn’t like. But that didn’t appease Willmott, who felt some of the questions had sexist or racist undertones, such as the one on whether immigration threatens the “purity” of Canada.
“I was horrified when I saw that,” she said. “That implants the idea in my mind that immigration could somehow affect the purity of the country.”
Where’s my data going?
She also worried about how the data collected for these sensitive topics would be used.
Her concerns were heightened due to the recent scandal involving Cambridge Analytica. The consulting firm was reported to have harvested Facebook data of 50 million Americans to develop ways to influence potential Trump supporters in the last U.S. election.
“Is this actually for Aeroplan, or is Aeroplan collecting this data for someone else?” said Willmott.
Turns out, all the data was collected solely for Aeroplan by Montreal-based market research firm, CROP. The company says it was gauging the attitudes and values of Aeroplan members, so that the rewards program could better serve them.
CROP’s president Alain Giguere says he asked some bold questions simply to help Aeroplan better understand its members’ points of view.
“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.”
Giguere says, like it or not, many Canadians have conservative views on some issues.
According to his own research, in August 2017, when Canada was experiencing an influx of asylum seekers, 45 per cent of the 6,000 Canadians CROP surveyed agreed with the statement: “Overall, there is too much immigration. It threatens the purity of the country.”
Giguere says he has been asking these contentious questions in market research surveys for decades, including in a poll on populism and xenophobia that CROP did last year for CBC’s Radio-Canada. It included provocative questions such as the ones on immigration threatening the purity of Canada and the father being master of the house.
Giguere adds that people are free to oppose any statements they find offensive.
“You just have to disagree and we will know that you are a modern person,” he said. “This is a very scientific process.”
Wiping the data
Aeroplan’s owner, however, has a different viewpoint. Aimia pledged to delete the data collected and offered an apology after being contacted by CBC News about Willmott’s complaint.
The Toronto-based company said it should have taken a closer look at the questionnaire before distributing it.
The news was welcomed by Willmott, who contemplated cutting ties with Aeroplan if it didn’t take action.
“Hopefully, they are more careful with that in the future,” she said.
CROP isn’t happy with the outcome. Giguere says he still doesn’t understand what all the ruckus is about.
“I think it’s a big drama for nothing.”