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Canadians and Privacy Survey Results: How do you feel about your privacy?

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Canadians are heavy users of social networks and other communications technologies, but many are not taking basic steps to protect their personal information, a comprehensive new survey has found.

The telephone survey of 2,000 randomly selected adults, commissioned by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) and published August 25, 2011, found that three-quarters (74 percent) of respondents own at least one mobile communications device, such as a cell phone, smart phone or tablet.

However, only four in 10 use password locks for the devices, or adjust their settings to limit the sharing of personal information that may be stored on the devices.

The 2011 Canadians and Privacy Survey also found that one-third of Canadians use public Wi-Fi sites, such as those located at coffee shops and airports, where online communication may not always be protected by encryption. Of those, fully 85 percent admitted to some concern about possible risks to the security of their personal information.

The poll, conducted in late February and early March by Harris/Decima, also found that just over half (51 percent) of respondents use social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace or LinkedIn. Fortunately, four in five said they take advantage of privacy settings that allow them to control access to their online content. Even so, 45 percent of all respondents who use social networking sites acknowledged that they are concerned about the associated risks to their privacy.

While the survey found that younger Canadians aged 18 to 34 are the most enthusiastic users of technology, they are also appear to be the most likely to use available mechanisms to protect their privacy.

The OPC commissioned the poll in order to gauge public understanding and awareness of privacy issues, particularly in the Office’s four priority issues: information technology, public safety, identity integrity and protection, and genetic technology. Similar surveys were conducted in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009.

The complete survey, which has a margin of error of +/- 2.2 percent, 19 times out of 20, can be found on our website.

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