A survey [Link: https://www.cigionline.org/internet-survey] conducted by Ipsos for the Centre for International Governance Innovation in October and November 2014 revealed that 54 per cent of Canadians are more concerned about online privacy than they were one year ago. Sixty-nine per cent are concerned about a criminal hacking into their personal bank accounts and 66 per cent are concerned about someone hacking into their online accounts and stealing personal information like photos and private messages.
However, 30 per cent of Canadians believe that their private information on the Internet is very secure, and 34 per cent believe that the chance of having their personal information compromised on the Internet is so small that it’s really not worth worrying about.
Two of the topics probed by the survey were trust in the private sector and governments.
When it comes to sharing information with companies, 27 per cent of Canadians share personal information with private companies online all the time and say “it’s no big deal.”However, 70per cent are concerned about private companies monitoring online activities (such as Internet search habits) and then selling that information for commercial purposes without explicit consent.
Service providers take note: 67 per cent of Canadians surveyed responded that they want their online data and personal information to be physically stored on a secure server, yet 77 per cent responded that they want their online data and personal information to be physically stored on a secure server in Canada. Location matters.
With respect to governments, 55 per cent of Canadians are concerned about governments censoring the Internet and 52 per cent are concerned about governments secretly monitoring their online activities. Interestingly, the same percentage of Canadian Internet users cited concerns about Canadian and foreign government monitoring. When asked if they believe that their government is doing a good job of making the Internet safe and secure, 6 per cent of Canadians replied that they strongly agree and 48 per cent somewhat agree.
While roughly half of online Canadians appear to trust their government, survey results raise doubts about how informed that opinion may be. When asked, “Have you heard anything about Edward Snowden, a U.S. government contractor who leaked documents to the media showing that the U.S. and other national governments have been secretly tapping into personal online accounts to collect information about people around the world?”only 62 per cent of Canadians replied yes. While that’s slightly higher than the 60 per cent world average, in Germany 94 per cent had heard of Snowden, as compared to 86 per cent in Sweden, 85 per cent in China, 85 per cent in Brazil, 83per cent in Hong Kong 76 per cent in the United States, and 72 per cent in Great Britain.
Of those Canadians who have heard of Snowden, 32 per cent responded that they have taken steps to protect their online privacy and security. This compares to a world average of 39 per cent. The survey did not probe the reasons for action in response to global surveillance revelation. One possible explanation is apathy, but it is also likely that many people simply don’t know what they can do.
“Overall, the findings suggest that Canadians are apprehensive about their privacy and security online,”explained Dr. Eric Jardine, Research Fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation. “Many are more concerned about these things than they were a year ago. In North America as a whole, people have even changed their behaviour when using the Internet to try and keep themselves secure. At the same time, when compared to the global average from the survey, Canadians tend to be less concerned than many other countries about things like privacy violations and government surveillance. Within Canada, the restraint shown thus far by government in undertaking surveillance and the privacy protections that restrict what companies can do with personal data seem to be generating an environment that is more conducive to trust in the Internet, at least compared to many of the other countries in the sample.”
There is a difference between checking a box on a survey and actually doing something about it. Revealed preferences are a stronger indicator than stated preferences. On that basis, North Americans certainly appear concerned and their responses regarding changes in their behaviour were only slightly lower than world averages.
When asked, “How have you changed anything about how you behave online compared to one year ago?”Forty-one per cent of North Americans reported avoiding certain Internet sites and web applications, 24 per cent reported self-censoring what they say online, 16 per cent changing who they communicate with, 9per cent closing Facebook and other social media accounts, and 8 per cent use the Internet less often.
The message for businesses catering to Canadian consumers is clear. Protect personal information, use it only with explicit consent, and keep it in Canada.
The message to the Canadian government is also clear. Only six out of 10 Canadians are aware of Internet surveillance that continues to receive media coverage, and that number will continue to rise. Presumably far fewer Canadians fully understand the additional surveillance powers contained in Bill C-13, which became law after the survey was concluded. Yet only slightly more than half of Canadians believe their government is is doing a good job of making the Internet safe and secure. Trust will continue to erode until the government makes Internet security and privacy a real priority.
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