A uniquely anonymous survey participant

Posted on March 25, 2014 by Marko Dimjašević

War is peace

Here at the University of Utah people like to use doublespeak. One example are anonymous surveys sent out by email to students, which contain a per-student unique identifier in their URLs. I have received such emails from the university’s International Center (these days it’s called International Student and Scholar Services). Disturbed by their claim that their surveys are anonymous, while at the same time they provide per-student unique URLs for the surveys, I have sent them a request to stop claiming such surveys are anonymous, but I was simply ignored and no reply was sent back to me.

A more recent example is a survey from Associated Students of the University of Utah (ASUU). They have sent me an email with a call to provide them with feedback through a survey, which is on decreasing textbook costs at the university. Again, the claim is that the survey is anonymous, yet they provided me with a URL that raises a few eyebrows when it comes to anonymity.

To make it absolutely clear what I am talking about, here is the email I’ve received from ASUU:

From: Student Body President <info baseline.mail.campuslabs.com>
Reply-to: <rwootton asuu.utah.edu>
To: u0808640 utah.edu
Subject: Help us decrease student textbook costs
Date: Mon, 17 Mar 2014 20:56:20 +0000

Hello University of Utah Students,

ASUU is working with many organizations on campus to decrease textbook costs for students at the University of Utah. As students, we know this is an important issue to many of you and would love your help in figuring out the best ways to decrease student textbook expenses. This survey is anonymous and should take just 3-5 minutes to complete. Your feedback will be a critical part of our recommendations for the University of Utah.

To access the survey please click here. If the survey does not open automatically, please copy and paste the following link to your internet browser’s address bar:


Any additional feedback, questions, or suggestions may be sent to Rachel Wootton, ASUU Director of Academic Affairs, at rwootton@asuu.utah.edu.

Thank you so much for your help and have a great rest of your semester!

Sam Ortiz
Student Body President

Distribution of this message was approved by Mary G. Parker, Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management, University of Utah Phone (801) 581-3490, 201 S. Presidents Circle, Room 206, Salt Lake City, UT 84112

So, you can see my unique university identifier in my email address and a suspicious anonymity link in the message. What raises even more eyebrows is a follow-up email from ASUU titled “Reminder: Help us decrease student textbook costs”, with exactly the same message body as the message above. If the survey was anonymous, how come they know I haven’t filled it out?

Just to make sure I am talking about a yet another example of fluency in doublespeak at the university, I’ve asked another student to forward me his copy of the same message from ASUU. The message body in his email is the same as in mine, except for the link:


As you can see, the same anonymous survey was pointed to by two different links to two different students.

I would say using doublespeak is a great way to build trust around what you work on and to get students involved. Go Utes!