Anonymous vs. Confidential

When collecting data (most often from surveys), researcher will say that the data are anonymous or confidential.

The two words mean different things, and it is important for the participant, their protection, and their willingness to participate that the correct term is used.

Anonymous

  1. The researcher is not collecting any unique identifiers from individual subjects (for example, name, email, phone number).
  2. The researcher is not collecting identifiers that, if combined, would be likely to identify a participant (for example, age, race, occupation, years in that occupation in a relatively small sample of participants).

In short, anonymous data can never be linked to an individual.

Confidential

  1. Confidential data means that the researchers will be able to identify the participants. But it also means that the data will never be reported in a way that allows a participant’s identity to be known (e.g., responses are combined with those of other participants and reported in aggregate form).

In short, an activity is confidential if participants provide identifying information but the connection
between participant and results is not shared.

Data cannot be both anonymous and confidential.