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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), initially running Android 9 and Chrome 87 (later updated). The tablets 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 the major video-streaming and videoconferencing sites (YouTube, Zoom, Skype etc), 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.

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. Also, some of Chrome's own accessibility settings were still available, 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.

Actual completion of their 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 both Tesco and Sainsbury's by asking a cashier to scan a barcode from a mobile screen, but in the case of Sainsbury's their cashier's machine refused to accept the voucher on the first day but accepted it on our following trip. We did not try the vouchers on either shop's self-checkout machines (we thought this experiment would be likely to delay the queue), and there was conflicting information about whether or not the discounts were permitted for use online so we didn't try that either. Balance enquiry was by refreshing the voucher page for Sainsbury's and by telephone for Tesco (0345 number provided) which we confirmed worked, in our case just telling us when the voucher had been spent as we had not tried using only part of the £10 balance---minimising shopping trips due to the pandemic means spending more than that each time.

All material © Silas S. Brown unless otherwise stated.