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2011 Canadians And Privacy Survey Results Published

Government of Canada [1]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 survey of 2,000 randomly selected adults has determined. Commissioned by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada [1] (OPC) and published late last week, the survey found that three-quarters (74 percent) of respondents own at least one mobile communications device, such as a cell phone, smart phone or tablet – yet only four in ten 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 [2] 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.

“Canadians are recognizing that their personal information is not safe in this new digital environment, unless they take concrete measures to protect it,” Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart observed. “Unfortunately, however, too few are taking even the most basic precautions, such as setting passwords on their mobile devices.”

“We encourage people to use passwords, encryption, privacy settings and every other available measure to safeguard their personal information, because the meaningful protection of privacy has to start with the individual.”

Indeed, the survey detected widespread concern about the impact of technology on people’s privacy. Four in 10 respondents felt that computers and the Internet pose a risk to their privacy, up from one-quarter (26 percent) in a similar survey just two years ago. Levels of concern about a range of technologies and applications, including cellphones, online banking, and credit and debit card transactions, all rose since 2009.

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

“This was a gratifying finding,” Commissioner Stoddart said. “Young people are sometimes stereotyped as digital exhibitionists who are quite uninhibited in posting comments and personal images. And yet, this new data shows that they not only care about privacy, they are actually leaders in protecting it.”

Other highlights of the poll include:

The OPC commissioned the poll in order to gauge public understanding and awareness of privacy, particularly as it is affected by 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.

A PDF version of the  complete survey [3], which has a margin of error of +/- 2.2 percent, 19 times out of 20, is available for download from the Privacy Commissioner’s web site.