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Doodle’idu! Legal issues of user test recruitment in Germany

Recruitment of participants is a necessary and essential part of user testing. For those in Germany, certain strict legal concerns must also be given serious consideration. This article is intended to provide recommendations on best practices.

Note: This piece originally appeared on the Bigpoint company blog.

Recruitment of participants is a necessary and essential part of user testing. While many researchers in the industry prefer to “buy test users” via a third-party service provider, some of us have decided to do everything on our own. This provides a greater level of control because we can apply our own screening process, but also sometimes makes it difficult to find the right amount of people who meet all your desired criteria. This is especially true if your own panel is not that large yet. For those in Germany, certain strict legal concerns must also be given serious consideration. This article is intended to provide recommendations on best practices, drawn from our daily experience, on handling this delicate topic.

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and have no legal training! While everything I state in this post is based on experience and from counsel from legal professionals, this document should nevertheless be considered no more than an informal set of suggestions and guidelines!

Organizing users: Think twice before using Doodle

Most companies and institutions (including public ones like universities) use the popular web tool Doodle - while being not aware that it is legally problematic. Doodle uses Google AdSense and Google Analytics, which means that Doodle users (in our case test participants) must assume that their data is sent to the USA and processed & saved by Google. This in turn infringes on the EU data privacy rights of participants. You might ask, why does it concern us? It starts to when we ask users to leave their data on this site. It does not matter whether the Free or Premium version is being used. Furthermore, participants do not have control over who has access to their data — if we, as host, decide to create a public calendar, anyone with knowledge of the web link has open access (and there are many tricks to figure that one out).

If you still want to use Doodle anyways, you have to do it the following way (in order to be legally safe in Germany):

  • Provide an alternative registration method for participants.
  • Do not use the included mailing tool.
  • Mention that Doodle can be used without registration and that participants can also use an alias.
  • Avoid asking for personal data like real name and telephone numbers. Use aliases or IDs instead.
  • Reassure your users/participants that all data will be only used for the purpose of the test and that the link will be deleted afterwards. Also, mention this explicitly in the calendar description.

Specific alternative tools recommended by the official data privacy office of Germany can be found at and

Finding the right tool: Experience from requirements engineering

In order to find the right tool for Bigpoint User Research, we looked at 8 different providers. We ultimately decided to use none of them but that’s a topic for the next chapter.

A list of requirements was created and categorized into ‘must haves’, ‘should haves’ and ‘nice to haves’. In our case, the 'must have' requirements comprised the following:

  • The schedule system administrator can create a list of appointments from which to select,
  • The researcher can choose whether invitees are allowed to select just one time slot or multiple ones,
  • The researcher can choose whether a time slot can be selected by one or more invitees,
  • When a time slot has been selected the maximum number of times, the slot is then disabled for all new invitees who start the survey,
  • Invitees who sign up can leave their email address, and
  • Invitees cannot see other invitees' email addresses.

The Bigpoint approach: A creative alternative

In our user research daily business, online surveys are an essential part of our work. For recruitment purposes, we have figured out a way of scheduling by using our survey tool. This is possible with almost any survey tool that supports quotas (= quantitative limits) and offers the benefit that you can include your company’s data privacy policy (has to be checked by force response to continue) to put yourself legally on the safe side. Furthermore, data is hosted in one place and not passed to other companies like Google.

In order to schedule with surveys, you must simply:

  • Create a question with answers that correspond to your time slots,
  • Assign a quota of one response for each answer, and
  • Add a display logic (= a rule when something should be displayed) for each answer, with the condition that the answer is displayed only when the quota has not been met.

The result is a survey that changes its content dynamically and hides time slots which have been chosen already. And the best thing about it: You can customize this method so that it suits your specific needs. For example, you can increase the quota (i.e. to 8) if you are planning to do a focus group. Or you can ask for the gender or player type before displaying the time slots and balance your test sessions for these variables by simply using quotas (such as 4 male/ 4 female participants). Likewise you can define exclusion criteria (e.g. everyone who reports already knowing your product). Options are manifold and the customization of your recruitment scheduling can be created in a flexible manor. Have fun trying it out for yourself! ;)

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