Canadians Increasingly Concerned, Cautious About Privacy, Identity Theft

14 April 2015

According to the 2014 Survey of Canadians on Privacy, conducted by Phoenix Strategic Perspectives Inc. for the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Canadians are more concerned than ever about the privacy of their information. Highly reported retail sales data breaches throughout last year seem to have taken their toll on Canadians’ confidence in the security procedures of the companies they patronize, leaving them feeling like their information is out of their control. However, there is a silver lining to the study as well, with more Canadians saying they are taking proactive steps to educate themselves about privacy rights and protect their personal data.

Polling more than 1,500 Canadians, the study found that nine out of 10 people surveyed said they were concerned about their information privacy, and about one-third rate themselves as “very concerned”. This is a large increase from the 25 percent who were “very concerned” in 2013. Moreover, 73 percent of Canadians say that they feel like they have less control than previously over their personal information, and 60 percent say they have “little expectation” that they will be able to keep their personal information private in current conditions.

Much of this pervasive pessimism seems to come from the perception that government and business are not doing everything they can to protect the information of citizens and consumers. Only one in four Canadians believe that the government takes the privacy of its citizens seriously, and a paltry 16 percent believe that businesses take the privacy of their customers seriously.

The concerns about the government seem to stem from a fear of surveillance, with 44 percent of respondents saying they are “very concerned” that the government is collecting their information for surveillance purposes. With the recent reveal of the Canadian government’s ongoing monitoring of file-sharing downloads, this paranoia seems to have been justified. A large majority, 89 percent, of respondents in this survey believed that the government has a responsibility to explain its surveillance activities and how the information collected will be used to its citizens.

Some Canadians are taking this opportunity to educate themselves about the options that are open to them in terms of preventing identity theft and reporting privacy breaches when they do happen. A greater proportion of Canadians said that they were aware of federal privacy institutions (although only 11 percent could cite the Office of the Privacy Commissioner by name). More Canadians are also taking steps to protect their mobile phones from data breaches, with 77 percent using a password lock on their phone or tablet, as opposed to 56 percent in 2012. Three-quarters of respondents said they had decided not to install or uninstalled a mobile app because of concerns about the information the app would collect.

However, Canadians’ general confidence in their knowledge of their privacy rights remains unchanged. Fifty-six percent of Canadians said that they did not have enough information to understand the effects of new technologies on their privacy. Less than half believe they have enough knowledge of how the information they share with organizations will be used. Seventy-eight percent feel more reluctant than previously to provide their personal information to organizations, but only 29 percent have ever asked a company how it will be using their information before engaging the company’s services.

In a world where it is increasingly difficult to understand and track how your personal information is being used, a credit monitoring service can give you some much-needed confidence by alerting you to certain types of activity that could indicate fraud on your account.