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Canadians increasingly anxious about privacy in the face of new technology, poll suggests

Research indicates Canadians avoid downloading apps or using certain websites and services due to privacy concerns

Ottawa, April 4, 2013 — A significant number of Canadians do not feel they understand the privacy risks posed by new technologies and are not confident in their ability to protect their personal information, a new poll commissioned by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada suggests. Further, such concerns are affecting consumer choices.

The telephone survey of 1,513 residents across Canada found that 56% are not confident that they understand how new technologies affect their privacy. The number of Canadians lacking confidence in their ability to protect their privacy in the face of new technology has increased steadily since the year 2000. Seven in ten Canadians also reported feeling that they have less protection of their personal information in their daily lives than they did 10 years ago.

The declining lack of confidence reflects a range of concerns Canadians have about sharing their personal information online. Many reported being very concerned about posting information about their location (55%) and contact information (51%). The majority (55%) said they have decided not to install, or have uninstalled, an app because of the amount of personal information they would have to provide, and 68% of Canadians say they have chosen not to use a site or a service because they were uncomfortable with the terms of the privacy policy.

“Canadians are beginning to realize that the various pieces of information they share online can reveal a lot about them and can be used in ways they never intended,” says Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart. “They are clearly wondering whether they really know what is happening behind the scenes when they share their personal information.”

The Survey of Canadians on Privacy-Related Issues, conducted from October 25 to November 12, 2012, found that while individuals’ concerns about the protection of privacy are high—66% are very concerned, with 25% of them saying they are extremely concerned—they often don’t take advantage of privacy protection options or information. For example, half of Canadians rarely or never consult online privacy policies and 54% do not take steps to limit tracking of their Internet activities.

“Canadian consumers have grown accustomed to, and expect, protections when they use products and services,” says Commissioner Stoddart. “But they need to realize that they have an important role to play and they need to take a more active approach when it comes to protecting their personal information.”

The survey showed that this realization may be starting to sink in for mobile users. On top of the majority who reported avoiding downloading apps out of privacy concerns, the survey also found that 56% of mobile users lock their device with a password or adjust their settings to limit the amount of personal information they share with others (53%)­­. This reflects a significant increase in the use of such measures since the OPC’s last survey of consumers in 2011.

Other findings from the survey include:

  • 71% of Canadians think protecting the personal information of Canadians will be one of the most important issues facing our country in the next 10 years.
  • 21% of Canadians think the federal government takes its responsibility to protect personal information seriously while only 13% feel businesses are serious about this responsibility.
  • 60% have asked an organization for an explanation of how it will use their information.
  • 97% would want to be notified by an organization if their personal information was compromised.
  • 73% of Canadians who use the Internet are concerned about companies using their information to send them spam.
  • 81% think it is very important that websites actively inform them about what kinds of personal information they are collecting and how they use it.

The survey results are considered to be accurate to within +/- 2.5%, 19 times out of 20, and can be found on our website at www.priv.gc.ca.

For more detailed information about the research, please see:

The Privacy Commissioner of Canada is mandated by Parliament to act as an ombudsman and guardian of privacy in Canada. The Commissioner enforces two federal laws for the protection of personal information: the Privacy Act, which applies to the federal public sector; and the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), which applies to commercial activities in the Atlantic provinces, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and the Territories. Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia each has its own law covering the private sector. Even in these provinces, PIPEDA continues to apply to the federally regulated private sector and to personal information in interprovincial and international transactions.

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For more information, please contact:

Heather Ormerod
Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada
E-mail: heather.ormerod@priv.gc.ca

NOTE: Journalists are asked to please send requests for interviews or further information via e-mail.