Why Partial Submissions are Invasive?

Blocksurvey blog author
Written by Wilson Bright
Sep 24, 2023 · 10 mins read

Forms and surveys are now ubiquitous in the digital world, serving diverse purposes such as obtaining customer feedback, conducting market research to processing job applications. However, a topic of discussion has emerged on Hacker News concerning a controversial feature present in many online forms and survey tools: partial submissions.

The debate has stirred various opinions about the ethics and legality of capturing user data before they hit the "submit" button. Is this a clever business tactic or a violation of an unspoken social contract between users and platforms?

At BlockSurvey, we've taken a definitive stance on this issue: we do not support partial submissions. This feature has been requested by a few of our customers, but we made a choice not to support it even though it doesn’t bring money to the table. This is similar to our stand of not running Google Analytics and Facebook Pixel for retargeting.

In this blog post, we will explain our ethical stance and highlight why we consider collecting partial submissions a harmful user experience design tactic and a violation of privacy and ethical standards.

The Common Case for Partial Submissions

Many platforms advocate for the use of partial submissions as a means to optimize conversion rates and capture potential leads. From a business perspective, it's easy to see the allure.

Partial submissions allow companies to:

  • Identify Drop-off Points: Knowing where users abandon a form can provide valuable insights into user experience pain points, enabling businesses to make necessary improvements.

  • Capture Lost Leads: Users who didn't complete a form might still be interested in your product or service. Capturing their partially filled information could provide a second chance to convert them into customers.

  • Optimize Forms for Conversion: With the data on where users drop off, businesses can run A/B tests to determine what specific changes increase form completion rates.

  • Enhance Personalization: Some argue that the data captured can be used to personalize future user experiences, although this comes with its own set of ethical considerations.

While these points present a compelling business case, they fail to address the growing concerns about user privacy and the ethical implications of such a practice. At BlockSurvey, we've weighed these benefits against the potential downsides and made a conscious choice not to enable partial submissions. The following sections will elaborate on the ethical dimensions that influenced our decision.

The User Experience and Unspoken Social Agreements

When someone fills out a form or survey, there's an unspoken agreement that the information they provide will only be used once they hit the 'Submit' button. It's similar to filling out a physical form where you wouldn't want anyone to write down your information before you're done. Users expect this level of privacy and control, whether they realize it or not.

If this agreement is broken, it can damage the company's reputation, reduce trust, and potentially violate data protection regulations. Some users may be savvy enough to notice that their data is being collected prematurely, but others may assume that their unfinished entries are still private or never submitted. This breach of trust goes against the implicit social contract and can harm a business if it chooses to reach out with partially collected data without consent.

Unpacking the Dark Pattern of Partial Submissions

The concept of 'Dark Patterns' in design refers to user interfaces crafted to trick users into doing things they might not want to do. Partial submissions can fall under this category. Although not as overtly manipulative as some dark patterns, the covert collection of incomplete data still manipulates user behavior and expectations for the business's benefit at the expense of user privacy.

The dangers extend beyond just trust. Partial submissions can capture sensitive data that users have not explicitly agreed to share. For example, someone might start filling out a medical history form but then decide not to submit it. If this data is captured without explicit consent, it raises significant ethical and potentially legal concerns.

Privacy and Ethical Concerns of Partial Submissions

When gathering information through forms and surveys, it's crucial to consider more than just conversion rates and user experience. Ethical and privacy concerns must also be taken into account. The data collected can range from basic details like names and email addresses to highly sensitive information such as financial or health records. 

It's important to obtain explicit consent before collecting any of this data. Without it, users' autonomy over their personal information is being disregarded, which is a violation of their rights protected under various data protection laws worldwide. These laws include the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the EU and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in the United States. Unauthorized data collection can lead to negative consequences such as alienating users and legal repercussions for companies. Therefore, it's an unethical and unwise practice to engage in.

BlockSurvey's Commitment to Privacy by Design

At BlockSurvey, we're committed to challenging the status quo and taking an ethical standpoint. We choose not to implement partial submissions precisely because we understand the sensitive nature of this practice. We respect the implicit social contract between us and the users of our platform—that data should only be collected when explicitly provided by hitting the 'Submit' button.

Our focus is on ensuring privacy by design, from the backend infrastructure to the user interface. We use encryption and blockchain technology to give users control and ownership of their data. By taking this stand, we hope to set an industry standard and encourage other companies to evaluate the ethics of their data collection practices.

Conclusion: The Right Way Forward

As we've explored, the issue of partial submissions is not just about data collection or user experience but about respecting an implicit social contract and ethical guidelines. At BlockSurvey, we proudly stand against this practice. We aim to be a platform where user privacy is not just a feature but a fundamental principle.

We do not support partial submissions as a feature. Instead, we are committed to ethical data collection practices that respect your privacy and data ownership. Our use of encryption and integration with Web 3 using blockchain are testaments to this commitment.

We encourage you to share your thoughts on this topic and to carefully consider the ethical implications of the digital tools you use. In doing so, we can collectively move towards a more respectful and privacy-conscious digital landscape.

Why Partial Submissions are Invasive? FAQ

What are partial submissions?

Partial submissions refer to the practice of collecting data that users have entered into a form or survey but have not explicitly submitted by clicking a "Submit" button.

Why are partial submissions considered invasive?

Partial submissions violate the implicit social contract between the user and the platform by collecting data without explicit consent. This can be seen as a breach of privacy and raises ethical concerns.

Does BlockSurvey support partial submissions?

No, BlockSurvey does not support partial submissions. We are committed to ethical data collection that respects user privacy and autonomy.

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blog author description

Wilson Bright

Wilson Bright is the co-founder of BlockSurvey. He is an avid crypto enthusiast, and his vision is to make BlockSurvey a go-to infrastructure for data collection with a focus on privacy and security.