Background—Analyses that link contextual factors with individual-level data can improve our understanding of the "risk environment"; however, the accuracy of information provided by participants about locations where illegal/stigmatized behaviors occur may be influenced by privacy/confidentiality concerns that may vary by setting and/or data collection approach.
Methods—We recruited thirty-five persons who use drugs from a rural Appalachian town and a Mid-Atlantic city to participate in in-depth interviews. Through thematic analyses, we identified and compared privacy/confidentiality concerns associated with two survey methods that (1) collect self-reported addresses/cross-streets and (2) use an interactive web-based map to find/confirm locations in rural and urban settings.
Results—Concerns differed more by setting than between methods. For example, (1) rural participants valued interviewer rapport and protections provided by the Certificate of Confidentiality more; (2) locations considered to be sensitive differed in rural (i.e., others' homes) and urban (i.e., where drugs were used) settings; and (3) urban participants were more likely to view providing cross-streets as an acceptable alternative to providing exact addresses for sensitive locations and to prefer the web-based map approach.
Conclusion—Rural-urban differences in privacy/confidentiality concerns reflect contextual differences (i.e., where drugs are used/purchased, population density, and prior drug-related arrests). Strategies to alleviate concerns include: (1) obtain a Certificate of Confidentiality, (2) collect geographic data at the scale necessary for proposed analyses, and (3) permit participants to provide intersections/landmarks in close proximity to actual locations rather than exact addresses or to skip questions where providing an intersection/landmark would not obfuscate the actual address.
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
This research was funded by the Fordham University HIV and Drug Abuse Prevention Research Ethics Training Institute and National Institutes of Drug Abuse Grants R25DA031608 (Director, Celia B. Fisher) and K01DA033879 (PI: Abby E. Rudolph). The SNAP study was funded by R01DA024598 and R01DA033862 (PI: Jennifer R. Havens).
Rudolph, Abby E.; Young, April M.; and Havens, Jennifer R., "A Rural/Urban Comparison of Privacy and Confidentiality Concerns Associated with Providing Sensitive Location Information in Epidemiologic Research Involving Persons Who Use Drugs" (2017). Epidemiology and Environmental Health Faculty Publications. 43.