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Ipsos Mori Internet devices

In 2020 we received multiple paper letters saying our address had been randomly selected by a research agency called Ipsos MORI, inviting us to join their "knowledge panel" to answer surveys on public opinion etc. The invitation was non-transferable and required Internet access, but they said if we didn't have Internet, or if we didn't think we could use it easily, then they'd give us "a device" to complete their surveys which could also be used for other Internet access.

When talking to them by telephone in December 2020, I was asked the "can you use the Internet easily" question and I gave a slightly-lengthy "it depends" answer---are there any specific browser and OS requirements we had to meet (a consideration which, for the benefit of the presumed non-technical call-centre operator, I simplified to "our computers are getting old and some websites say we need a new one, so I can't promise every website will fully work" or words to that effect), plus would the site 'play nicely' with my accessibility and other settings?---whereupon she decided to sign us up for getting "devices" just in case.

Ipsos arranged for a company called TEK Express to ship us a pair of Galaxy Tab A tablets (made in 2019, weight with cover 685 grammes---both covers' magnets fell out within 9 months due to light indoor wear-and-tear of the plastic); the tablets initially ran Android 9 and Chrome 87 (later updated), and were locked down by Samsung Knox remote-support software in "Kiosk" mode, to restrict access to anything other than Chrome (without Incognito Mode), Adobe Reader and email. So yes they can be used for "other Internet access" but only as long as this can be done in Chrome on the tablet---they do not provide connectivity to other devices, and you can't run your own software other than by loading it as Javascript in the browser.

In March 2021 a Chrome configuration update additionally blocked access to 60+ websites, including the videoconferencing services Zoom and Skype, the UK television channels, a dozen subscription film services, Apple, half a dozen 'livestreaming' sites, well-known video-sharing sites, half a dozen file-sending and storage sites, Facebook Gaming, and a couple of corporate collaboration tools. This was presumably because each tablet was supplied with a Vodafone data SIM and some users might have been driving up Ipsos's bills by streaming excessive video over that connection---but the block had to apply even on Wi-Fi. Since the block list included sites that were already defunct anyway, I suspect it was an exercise in "what 'problem' sites can we think of" rather than being based on actual traffic data.

Knox's Kiosk mode prevented me from reaching the full Android accessibility settings (indeed it could cause the system to hang if I tried to interact too much with the notification bar, and later versions prevented me from reading the notifications at all, although the status bar still told me that notifications were there to be read somehow); only brightness and limited-range font size options could be set, and when I phoned Support asking how to get out of Kiosk to enable dark mode, they "remoted in" (asking only for the 5-digit "asset number" stuck to the case, so accidental connections to the wrong tablet probably could happen---it didn't prompt me to allow it; it did show notifications at the start and end of the support session but not during it)---and turned down the brightness control, saying that's the best we can do (no dark mode). But Android's "hold both volume keys" shortcut for toggling Voice Assistant did work (after being enabled the first time and then repeated to actually switch it on), although you couldn't change its voice even though the Javascript Web Speech API showed at least three voices available. Some application-level accessibility settings were still available: the Email application's menu - cogwheel - "Make Email app dark" was allowed but doesn't apply to the email body, and Chrome's dark theme (plus, if you're adventurous, enable-force-dark under chrome://flags) was allowed, although it wasn't possible to add bookmarks or change the home page.

The Kiosk mode also prevented us from interacting with the software update process. If we turned the tablets fully off when not in use, updates tended not to happen at all (we'd be constantly notified they're pending but were unable to interact with these notifications) so we had to leave them switched on to standby---but this caused the tablets to periodically play sounds when restarting after an update and at other seemingly-random times, and Kiosk prevented us from accessing any setting to disable these sounds. This was not a major problem until one of us accidentally left a tablet in the bedroom overnight and it played its sound at five o'clock in the morning on a day when we really needed to have slept well. Do not leave these tablets anywhere where you'd be disturbed by occasional loud beeping sounds at any time of day or night. (We were later able to adjust some volume settings by tapping to expand the popup that briefly appears after one of the hardware volume buttons is pressed, but noises are still possible.)

Another problem was that the security policy did not allow changing the site notification settings in Chrome, but you could choose to accept notifications from a website---in which case you won't then be allowed to turn them off! This became an annoyance for us when a visiting child picked up one of our tablets and tried (and failed) to side-load a game from a questionable APK site: he said `yes' to allowing notifications from the site, and they were frequent. At least we were able to change some of Chrome's Settings / Site settings / Notifications to make them quiet and to block accepting them from new sites, but we weren't allowed to remove the sites he'd already added from that screen---but we were still allowed to use Settings / Site settings / All sites / the site he visited / Clear & Reset.

Actual completion of Ipsos surveys wasn't too difficult, although they have asked some multiple-choice questions to which my natural reaction would be "it depends what you mean by this word and/or it depends on the exact circumstances---I could write a paragraph about it" but that wasn't an option so I had to go for "not sure" or "don't know" which Ipsos apparently tries to discourage by displaying in grey text reminiscent of a disabled form control (perhaps to balance out the temptation to skip time-consuming questions?); I suppose these surveys are not focus groups. Some later surveys did allow free text entry (e.g. what do I think the issues with battery-powered aircraft might be); typing large amounts of text on the tablet would of course have been difficult even with the supplied magnetic pen, but if necessary I could arrange for a paragraph to be temporarily placed on a private website so I can copy and paste it into the survey, and I was also able to make English voice-recognition work on the tablet via a microphone button above the keyboard, although the accuracy of this is variable. We don't remember being given all the UK surveys mentioned on Ipsos's "News and Polls" web pages, so it seems they limit participant load by not enrolling everybody in every survey.

Ipsos survey "points" could be converted into shopping vouchers for a supermarket of your choice, although "your choice" in this instance is limited to Tesco, Sainsbury's, M&S, Argos or Amazon online. We were able to redeem discounts at the first three of these; the Sainsbury's voucher took more than a day to activate but the others were more immediate; on the M&S self-checkout it was necessary to select "gift card" instead of "voucher" to avoid an "invalid code" error. There was conflicting information about whether or not the discounts were permitted for use online and we didn't try. Balance enquiry was by refreshing the voucher page for Sainsbury's and by telephone for Tesco and M&S (03 numbers provided) which we confirmed worked: if your shopping bill is less than the value provided, then the voucher is automatically 'part-spent' and some balance remains on it. At time of issue the expiry dates were set at 10 years for Amazon, 5 years for Tesco, 4 years for M&S and just over 1 year for Sainsbury's.

All material © Silas S. Brown unless otherwise stated.