With the increasing use of online social networking platforms, online surveys are widely used in many fields, e.g., public health, business and sociology, to collect samples and to infer the population characteristics through self-reported data of respondents. Although the online surveys can protect the privacy of respondents, self-reporting is challenged by a low response rate and unreliable answers when the survey contains sensitive questions, such as drug use, sexual behaviors, abortion or criminal activity. To overcome this limitation, this paper develops an approach that collects the second-order information of the respondents, i.e., asking them about the characteristics of their friends, instead of asking the respondents’ own characteristics directly. Then, we generate the inference about the population variable with the Hansen-Hurwitz estimator for the two classic sampling strategies (simple random sampling or random walk-based sampling). The method is evaluated by simulations on both artificial and real-world networks. Results show that the method is able to generate population estimates with high accuracy without knowing the respondents’ own characteristics, and the biases of estimates under various settings are relatively small and are within acceptable limits. The new method offers an alternative way for implementing surveys online and is expected to be able to collect more reliable data with improved population inference on sensitive variables.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited