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Concern for privacy has jumped, survey of Canadians finds

GATINEAU, QC, January 28, 2015 – A growing number of Canadians say they are concerned about privacy, according to a new survey commissioned by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.

The poll found that nine in 10 Canadians were concerned about privacy.  One in three (34%) said they were extremely concerned – up significantly from 25 percent in 2012.

“Canadians are telling us they are concerned about many privacy issues, for example, data breaches, identity theft, digital privacy and warrantless access to personal data held by telecommunications companies,” says Privacy Commissioner of Canada Daniel Therrien.

“Canadians deeply value privacy, but fear they are losing the control they have over their personal information. It’s imperative we find ways to enhance that sense of control so that people feel their privacy rights are being respected.”

More than seven in 10 Canadians (73%) said they feel they have less protection of their personal information in their daily lives – the highest level in a decade. Meanwhile, 60 percent say they have little expectation of privacy today, either online or in the real world because there are so many ways in which their privacy can be compromised.

The survey of more than 1,500 Canadians was commissioned by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and published today on the occasion of Data Privacy Day.

The poll found, for example, that:

  • A significant majority (78%) expressed concern about how personal information about them online might be used in the context of government surveillance. 
  • More than half of Canadians (57%) said they were “not comfortable” with government departments and agencies requesting personal information from telecommunications companies without a warrant.
  • Canadians expressed particular concern about what might happen to the personal information stored on a mobile device if it was lost or stolen, with nearly half (49%) saying they were extremely concerned.
  • Nearly 30 percent of respondents said they had been negatively affected by a breach.  Most felt it is at least somewhat likely that their privacy may be breached by someone using their credit or debit card (78 %), stealing their identity (78%), or accessing personal information stored on their computer or mobile device (74%).

And while they expressed concerns about many issues, roughly half of Canadians said they don’t have a good understanding of what businesses and government will do with their personal information.

“There are lessons to draw from those findings,” says Commissioner Therrien.  “Businesses should be more upfront and clear about their privacy practices – and not bury that information in long, legalistic privacy policies.  And government departments and agencies need to respond to Canadians’ expectation that they be transparent about how they collect and use personal information.”

Commissioner Therrien also encouraged Canadians to ask questions when organizations request personal information – and to contact the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada if they have questions or concerns about their privacy rights.

The poll did suggest that a growing number of people are taking proactive steps to protect their privacy. For example:

  • Almost eight in 10 people surveyed (78%) have become less willing to share their personal information with organizations in the wake of media stories about sensitive information being lost, stolen or made public. 
  • More than three-quarters (77%) had refused to provide an organization with their personal information at one point in time.
  • Eight in 10 (81%) are more likely to choose to do business with a company specifically because it has a good reputation for privacy practices. 

And when it comes to mobile devices, there has been a major shift in the number of people taking security precautions on those devices:

  • 77 percent use a password lock (compared to only  39% in 2011);
  • 72 percent adjust settings to limit info sharing (compared to 40% in 2011);
  • 75 percent have decided not to install an app because of concerns re. the personal information requested (compared to 55% in 2011); and
  • 58 percent have turned off location tracking because of privacy concerns (compared to 38% in 2012.)

The telephone poll, conducted this past fall by Phoenix Strategic Perspectives Inc., has a margin of error of +/- 2.5 percent, 19 times out of 20, was conducted in October and November of 2014.

To view the final report: 2014 Survey of Canadians on Privacy (PDF version).

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner commissions polls in order to gauge public understanding and awareness of privacy issues.  Reports for similar surveys conducted in previous years can be found on the Office’s website.

About the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada

The Privacy Commissioner of Canada is mandated by Parliament to act as an ombudsman and guardian of privacy in Canada. The Commissioner enforces two 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), Canada’s federal private sector privacy law.

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For more information, please contact:

Valerie Lawton, Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada

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

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